How to stay safe online

01 July 2015

Staying safe online is paramount as cyber criminals target the internet to commit fraud and scams. Our guide shows you how to protect yourself online.

You can do almost anything online nowadays; banking, shopping and communicating is as easy as clicking a button.

But it can be just as easy for cyber criminals to access your personal information – and with disastrous consequences if they do.

Internet security is something we should all take seriously. And a little knowledge is all it takes to stay safe online.

How hackers access your information

Internet hackers can gain access to your personal information in a few ways:

  • Spam is unsolicited email from an unknown source. Hackers may pose as a legitimate website and ask you for your personal details, commonly known as ‘phishing’.
  • You might encounter an online store that promises you a product or service but doesn’t deliver.
  • Hackers may sneak in to your computer in the form of a virus or malware.

Gone phishing

The easiest scams to detect are the phishing scams, where someone sends you an email asking for your personal details, claiming to be from a trusted service.

If this happens, mark it as spam and don’t respond. Legitimate services will never ask for your personal information over email.

Ultimately, the golden rule of internet security is never open an email attachment or click a link to a website from an unknown source.

Five scams to steal your identity.

Online scams 

These aren’t as common today as they once were, but still exist. 

Someone from an online shop ‘sells’ you something, takes your money and disappears. 

Before you purchase anything online, check if:

  • The web address begins with ‘https’ or ‘shttp’. The S stands for secure and means it’s less likely to be hacked.
  • They have a verified PayPal account, preferably a business account. If you pay into a personal PayPal account, you might be stranded if the product isn’t delivered.
  • Credit card payments are made through a verified service. A locked padlock should appear next to the URL (web address) at the top of your browser to show it’s secure.

Virus protection

A virus is a small program designed to harm your computer. It’s spread via email and can do all kinds of damage, like deleting data. 

Likewise, malware - or malicious software - can come in the form of a virus or a software application that steals your personal data. This type is called spyware.

The best way to protect your computer is to install antivirus software that includes an anti-malware application. 

Free antivirus software is available to download online, but should be regularly updated. 

To ensure you have the latest version, choose a program that automatically updates itself.

The perfect password

Our online passwords are often our weakest points. It’s tempting to choose ones that are easy to remember, but they’re also easy for others to uncover and exploit. 

To protect yourself from password theft:

  • Use a different password for every account.
  • Mix random numbers, letters and special characters (*, ! or ?).
  • Never enter your password in public where someone can see what you’re typing.
  • Store your online passwords in a secure, offline location and look them up when you need them.

Read our guide to creating the perfect password.

Your rights online

If the worst happens, remember you do have rights. 

Every online service should have a clearly stated Terms and Conditions page that tells you everything you need to know about the company’s returns and refunds policy. Read it.

Credit card theft is rare if you take the proper precautions, but still happens. Fortunately, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 protects you for credit card purchases between £100 and £30,000. 

If you feel you need further protection, some credit card providers offer purchase protection programs.

Being vigilant about internet security might seem like a full-time job, but once you know what to look for it becomes second nature.

Read our guide to safe shopping online.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.