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(ARA) – While Americans have been using the Internet for about 20 years, it can still feel like the wild, wild West. Despite many technological advances that reduce the risk of your identity being stolen, becoming the victim of an Internet scam or having your privacy invaded by others on the Internet still occurs all too often. And, as a number of recent incidents involving social networking Web sites have shown, it can even be deadly.

Keeping your guard up is essential to avoiding trouble on the Internet. Here are some tips from FindLaw.com, the world’s leading online legal resource, on how you can stay safe online:

Don’t give out personal information too easily.
Avoid giving out personal information such as your name, address and telephone number on Web sites until you’ve read and understand their privacy policy. For example, be on guard for any online promotion or contest in which you may be asked to provide details about yourself. This information will likely be used to market to you in the future. Never give out your Social Security number online, unless you are certain the site is secure.
You’re being monitored.
Be careful of the e-mails you send and the Web sites you visit while at work. In most U.S. states, employees have little if any privacy protection from employers who may be monitoring their e-mails and Internet usage while on the job.

Don’t reply to spam.
Ever get one of those strange, unexpected e-mails for real estate, weight loss, work-at-home or investment opportunities? Your best bet is to delete those e-mails without opening them. Never reply to these e-mails, even to remove your name from their lists. Replying will alert the sender that your e-mail is a “live” e-mail attached to an actual person.

Secured Web sites only.
Before you purchase a product or service online with a credit card, make sure the connection is secure or encrypted. Look for a small lock icon on the Web site, or look at the URL address line; a secure connection will begin with https:// instead of http://.

Beware of public wireless sites.
Don’t send personal or confidential information when using public wireless connections in coffee shops and other public places. Fellow wireless users could potentially monitor your Internet usage from their laptops, only a few feet away.

Would your mother blush?
Avoid revealing personal information or photos on Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace or SecondLife. Personal, possibly very embarrassing information or images could haunt you in the years to come, when applying for college or a new job. If it’s on the Internet, it’s available for a potential employer, your school, a future or current spouse, or heaven forbid, your mother or grandmother to find it.

Don’t trust your best friend (even your partner).
As a number of recent incidents involving “sexting” demonstrate, sending photos of yourself in the nude or in compromising positions could not only be extremely embarrassing when a partner or ex-partner starts to share those photos with his or her friends, but it also could be illegal.

Always go with a friend.
When using Web sites such as Craigslist or Freelist to buy or exchange goods locally, always bring a friend, your partner or your spouse with you to meet a seller or buyer. Avoid allowing a potential buyer into your home, as they may be checking it out for potential valuables, and avoid going into the home of a seller.

Watch your cookies.
Cookies are tidbits of information that Web sites store on your computer. Some cookies are useful, such as those that store information about you so you don’t have to retype it every time you go to that site. Other cookies, though, can be used to track your motions through a Web site, the pages you visit or the links you click. Some companies keep this data to themselves – however, some companies sell this information to other marketers. You can monitor and edit the cookies on your computer through your browser.

Install anti-spyware.
Spyware is sneaky software that rides its way onto computers during the download of screensavers, games, music and other applications. Spyware sends information about what you’re doing on the Internet to a third-party, usually to target you with pop-up ads. Anti-spyware will help block this threat.

Monitor your kids’ Internet use.
Move computers out of the bedroom and into family space where parents and others can check on your child’s Internet use by simply walking by. Set specific times that your child may surf the Web, and set rules about social media Web sites, such as Facebook, My Space and Twitter.

To learn more about how to protect your privacy online, visit www.FindLaw.com.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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