Last week, I logged into my email account and found, among my regular correspondence, a message from a popular online retailer telling me my $135.27 purchase had successfully gone through.  This would have been great if I had actually bought something from them, but I hadn’t!  The customer service team cancelled the order and refunded my money quickly, but the fact that someone had breached my account was off-putting.  More and more, we’re keeping financial and personal information online, and while that can make our lives more efficient and convenient, it’s also like keeping your bank statements, records, and documents in a box in your backyard — you want to make sure that box is titanium and has about twelve padlocks.  With that in mind, here are some online security tips to keep you and your information safe.

Don’t Get Scammed

Online scams have been around since the internet was just a series of tubes, and scammers are only getting trickier.  Hopefully we all know not to answer heartrending messages from suffering children, or to help Nigerian princes transfer money, but when scammers capitalize on current events (like in order to “solicit donations”) or disguise themselves in transactions we make every day (such as with “conference scams,” where criminals “sell” tickets and hotel room bookings for nonexistent conferences), it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.  Protect yourself from online scammers with awareness and a healthy dose of skepticism, and keep a tight grip on your personal information.  Make sure to keep an eye on your bank and credit card records and report any transactions you don’t recognize to your bank; beware of products, promises, and deals that seem “too good to be true” (they probably are), and never give your financial information out to anyone unless you’re sure they are who they say they are.

What’s the Password?

This has probably been hammered into your head over and over again, but one more time can’t hurt.  Make sure your passwords are tricky and impossible to guess, even if a hacker knows a lot about you.  Use different ones for all your important accounts so that even if one is compromised, the others still stand.  And, security-research expert Markus Jakobsson warns, don’t just take the same simple root word and spiff it up for different sites — using “pass1” for your bank account and “pass2” for your Facebook won’t cut it.  Hackers are lightyears ahead of you on that one, especially now that they often design software to do the grunt work for them.  Instead, Jakobsson suggests, think of a story or memory that you know well, and pick three different aspects from it.  Smush those together, tweak it a little in a memorable way, and there’s your password.  For example, I might think about the time a squirrel got stuck in my fireplace, and use the password “squ1rrelstuckf1replace.”  No one’s going to guess that.

Are You Too Friendly On Social Networks?

With all the sharing going on these days on social networks, it can be hard to remember that not everyone on the internet is your friend.  In fact, some burglars have been using status updates, Foursquare check-ins, and public photos to help them pick targets for break-ins.  Pay attention to your privacy settings, and next time you want to tell your friends how much fun you’re having on that beach holiday (or how long you’ll be gone), think twice — you don’t want your vacation to cost you even more than you expected.

This guest post was written by Cara Giaimo, a blogger for SimpliSafe.  Cara covers issues regarding home security, safety, consumer technology, and crime; in her spare time, she likes running, jamming with friends, and making strange types of ice cream.  SimpliSafe is a leader in the wireless home security field.