As a college student, you might regard the internet as your go-to resource for research. The internet isn’t as private as many people treat it, however. Your personal information and safety could be at risk based on your online behaviors. The following tips will help prevent you from becoming the victim of cybercrime.

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Personal safety of all sorts involves a lot of common sense. If you think that something on the internet doesn’t seem right, it makes sense not to click the link. Beware of connecting with friends who you don’t actually know or giving out more personal information than seems absolutely necessary. Recovering from identity theft or a stolen credit card can be a long, arduous process, and staying smart about your online purchases and your public presence may prevent you from ever having to go through something like that. Here are some tips to maintain privacy online and to keep your computer and identity safe.

Use a firewall, an antivirus, and an antispyware program.

If your laptop doesn’t already come with some sort of internet protection (Windows Defender, for instance), many colleges will offer to install a security application free of charge. Colleges want to keep their students’ computers protected because schools generally offer only one or two WiFi networks for the whole campus. Any breach, then, has the possibility of affecting other users. If you need to purchase a security system, what you need will depend on what type of computer you have. Norton Security protects both Macs and PCs against viruses and phishing (an attempt to gain sensitive information by a company masquerading as legitimate).

Create a new email account for junk and newsletters.

If you are the type of person who signs up for online sweepstakes and morning newsletters, consider creating a separate email account from your school or personal email to receive promotions. Not only will your personal inbox stay personal, it’ll also stay free of spam.

Only shop online with a credit card, not a debit card.

When you shop online, regardless of how reputable the website is, use your credit card. If you use your debit card, the money is automatically removed from your bank account. If someone steals your debit card information, it will give the hacker a direct link to your money. Using a credit card protects your bank accounts, and since they don’t have to be paid off immediately, you have the chance to check your charges (and call your bank to dispute anything that doesn’t seem right) before you have to pay.

Look for the lock symbol.

When you go to some websites, you will see a lock symbol next to the URL. This means that your connection to that website is encrypted (making it harder to hack). Only make purchases from companies that provide you with an encrypted connection.

Be password smart.

Use different passwords for all the sites to which you regularly log in. Passwords should be complex, incorporating many letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t use personal information (like the name of your dog or your address) in your passwords. Usernames should also be complex and not repeated between different websites.

Be wary of links and attachments to emails and messages.

If a link comes from someone you don’t know, don’t click it. Links can embed all sorts of malicious viruses or just lead you to places that you don’t want to go. Hovering over the link without clicking it may display the actual destination, but when in doubt, just delete the email or message. The same goes for attachments. Unless you are expecting something and you receive an attachment from the person from whom you are expecting it, be safe and don’t open the file.

Don’t post personal information on social media.

While it’s perfectly okay to have your name displayed on Facebook, you may not want to advertise where you live and what your phone number is, especially if your account isn’t set to private or “friends only.” If people want to learn more about you, for whatever reason, social media is one of the first places they will look. Don’t advertise when you’ll be out of town, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. The Student Caffé blog offers more information about managing your social media presence.

Don’t fill out forms that require sensitive information when you are on an unsecured wireless network.

If a network is unsecured, it means that anyone could be using it. Inputting your name, address, and phone number can give hackers a direct line on your personal information. Putting in your credit card number, your debit card number, or your password for online banking is just asking for identity theft. Be especially aware of any forms that ask for your social security number. The only people who would ever need your social security number are the Internal Revenue Service, government agencies, your employer, and credit card companies.

Be wary when talking to strangers on instant messaging applications.

You may think that you’re talking to a cute college student, but you may, in reality, be talking to a convicted sex offender. Unless you are face-to-face with someone, you never know. Under no circumstances should you reveal personal information about yourself, your friends, or your location to a stranger online.

Page last updated: 12/2016