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Strategies for Staying Safe and Secure Online

Tips and advice excerpted from AARP's new book 'My Online Privacy for Seniors'

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Crossing the street at a busy intersection might be scary, but if you look both ways and follow traffic signals, chances are you'll get to the opposite side of the street safely. To accomplish this, you follow basic rules to avoid oncoming traffic. Not a big deal, right? Well, you should apply the same caution when using the internet.

AARP's new book My Online Privacy for Seniors offers simple steps to protect your safety and privacy, whether you are on your computer, phone, tablet or smart devices.

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Here are 9 tips excerpted from the book on how to help you navigate our ever-changing connected world.

Safely surf the internet

One key way websites and online services collect and use information about you, the web surfer, is by using cookies. A cookie is a tiny file that's transferred to your computer from a website you visit. To quickly determine whether the web browser you're using is set up to allow cookies, visit this website. Each web browser has a different process for turning on/off or adjusting its cookie-related features.

Protect your security when working with emails

If your computer is connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, a vulnerability exists when your computer wirelessly sends information through your home internet router or modem, or through a public Wi-Fi hotspot. To prevent this, consider installing a virtual private network (VPN) that'll work in conjunction with your web browser to encrypt all information as it leaves your computer or mobile device.

Remember online security basics

Some of the most commonly used passwords should never be used. These include the word “password,” your name, your child's name, your spouse's name, your pet's name, your birthdate, your anniversary date, your phone number, the letters “ abcdefgh ,” the number sequence “12345678,” the number sequence “87654321,” the number sequence “11111111,” the phrase “ letmein ,” the word “football,” the phrase “ iloveyou ,” or anything along these lines. (For example, using the password “22222222” is just as bad as using “11111111.") Using any of these passwords can compromise your online security.

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Protect your privacy and security when shopping online

Whenever you visit an online merchant, check the website address (URL) that's displayed in the web browser's Search/Website Address field. If your intent is to shop on Target's website, and the first portion of the website URL does not say, “,” you have likely somehow been redirected to a spoof (fake) website that's designed to look like the website. If you suspect this to be the case, close the browser window and manually type in the website address you want to visit in a new browser window.

Handle online banking securely

It's safer to use a credit card than a debit card when shopping online. If you use a major credit card and there's a problem with your purchase or the merchant, you can call the credit card issuer, which will intercede on your behalf. You don't pay the money while a dispute is being investigated and you aren't immediately out of the money. Your liability is limited, usually to $50, and most credit card companies waive that amount.

Use social media wisely

When choosing which photo of yourself to use as your profile picture with your social media account, some online security experts recommend you avoid using a headshot where you're looking directly into the camera — in other words, a photo that's similar to the type of photo found within your passport or on your driver's license. A cybercriminal could potentially use this type of profile photo to create fake identification should they attempt to steal your identity.

Safeguard privacy when sharing photos online

Social media sites — such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat — and many of the online-based photography-related services — including — allow you to publish one or more photos at a time and share them with the public.

If you're on a trip and taking amazing photos of landmarks and tourist attractions, you may not want to share these types of photos with the public — just certain people. You don't want to let the public know you are out of town.

Store data, documents and files in the cloud

There are two different kinds of storage: local and remote. Local storage refers to your computer's internal hard drive or your mobile device's internal storage, as well as any external hard drives or flash drives that are physically connected to your computer or linked via a Bluetooth wireless connection. Your content is stored locally and does not require the internet to access it. When something is stored remotely in the cloud, it's stored online, on a server potentially located away from your computer. Accessing remotely stored content requires an internet connection.

Customize the security settings on your smartphone or tablet

Newer iPhone and iPad models that do not have a Home button have a camera located on the front of the device that is able to scan your face and identify you when you simply look at the screen.

If you want your iPhone or iPad to be able to identify additional people, from the Face ID & Passcode submenu in Settings, tap the Set Up An Alternate Appearance option. Follow the onscreen prompts to scan and store the additional faces. Alternatively, you can share your device's passcode with other people to give them access to your mobile device, but do this only if you completely trust that other person.

This is adapted from AARP's My Online Privacy for Seniors. Get a 40 percent discount by clicking on Que Publishing and entering discount code AARP at checkout.

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