6 fast ways to protect your computer from scammers, according to the FTC

The internet can be a dangerous place. Learn how to protect your data.

Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash
  • In the first half of 2019, there were an estimated 3,800 data breaches that exposed over 4.1 billion financial, healthcare, and government records.
  • According to cybersecurity experts, there is no such thing as a 100% safe internet. Fortunately, there are ways to make it harder for scammers and hackers to steal your information.
  • VPNs, better password practices, and knowing how to spot a non-encrypted website are a few of the ways that internet users can protect themselves.

If you're reading this, then you're probably aware that the internet is not a safe place. The threat of identity theft, hacking, and scamming is there any time your devices connect to a network, but it usually doesn't feel real until it happens to you. According to the security software company Norton by Symantec, there were approximately 3,800 data breaches in the first half of 2019 alone. Those breaches exposed over 4.1 billion financial, government, healthcare, entertainment, and education records to cyber criminals. While there is not much we can do about an attack on a large company or organization, there are various ways that internet users can protect themselves against nefarious forces seeking to do them (and their bank accounts) harm.

Update your software

An iphone charging

Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

Most operating systems, games, social media apps, and other programs that you download and install on your computer and mobile devices offer periodic updates. While some updates are to provide new features, levels, and changes to the interface, updates are often packaged with added protection. Outdated software makes it easier for hackers to break in, so don't ignore those notifications. You have the option to update all apps automatically or manually. Here are the app update instructions and OS update instructions for iPhone users. Here are the app update instructions and OS update instructions for Android users.

It's finally time to get a VPN

credit card security American Express

Photo by Ryan Born on Unsplash

If someone asks for your personal information (credit card numbers, SSN, account numbers, logins, etc.), make sure that they are who they say they are. Shady characters have even copied the formatting of government agencies and sweepstakes companies to trick people into forking over information via web forms, emails, text messages, or voicemail. A general rule of thumb is that if it doesn't feel right to you or if it sounds too good to be true, don't do it.

Another way to protect your personal information is to purchase a VPN. VPNs (virtual private networks) like Private Internet Access allows users to mask their IP address and navigate the internet anonymously. This stops websites from tracking browsing habits, monitoring activity, and seeing the geographic locations of devices used to connect to the internet. Private Internet Access also features a high-grade encryption service to defend against monitoring and a built-in firewall that blocks potentially dangerous connections. Internet service providers often restrict access to certain websites based on location or other firewalls (at colleges and universities or in countries like Germany and Romania, for example). With a VPN like Private Internet Access, that censorship is lifted and users can browse with privacy and without restrictions.

Protect your passwords

a key in the open palm of a man's hand

Photo by CMDR Shane on Unsplash

For internet scammers, a password is like finding a bank card with the pin number taped to the back. Keeping your emails, photos, and personal information private requires having a strong password that is not easily guessed by someone who isn't you. Choose passwords that are at least 8 characters long and use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using birth dates, Social Security numbers, or common patterns like 12345 and "password." Google and other companies also warn against using the same password for multiple websites because in the event of a breach, more of your data will be in the hands of the criminals.

Use two-factor verification

A man using a smartphone touch screen

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

When available, two-factor verification (or two-step verification) is a great tool that adds another layer of protection for your data. By linking the account to a smartphone or another device and requiring additional approvals before granting access, it makes it harder for criminals even if they somehow discover your password.

Only use encrypted websites

A laptop showing code

Photo by Safar Safarov on Unsplash

A lock symbol and/or HTTPS instead of HTTP at the start of a URL in the address bar of a browser means that the website is secure. The encryption protects against "eavesdropping" during data communication. Some browsers will alert users when a website they are trying to access is not encrypted and recommend against entering any sensitive information including credit card or bank account numbers.

Back up your files

A broken hard drive

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Malware, viruses, and hardware malfunctions can cause computers and other devices to go kaput. That means that years of saved documents, passwords, and other files could be wiped out. It's important to periodically back up your systems to a secure cloud server or to an external hard drive so that it can be restored in the case of an emergency.

When you buy something through a link in this article Big Think may earn a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.

Scroll down to load more…