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10 password security tips

Whether we like it or not, avoiding Internet scams is now a part of our daily lives.

To prevent consumers from falling prey to unscrupulous individuals and companies, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network has designated March as International Fraud Prevention Month.

Use these 10 tips to better protect yourself online:

1. Review your bank and financial services accounts on a regular basis for irregular activity. Better yet, sign up for a credit monitoring service. Credit Sesame ( www.creditsesame.com ) and Credit Karma ( www.creditkarma.com ) offer free credit monitoring and consumers also can receive a free credit report each year by going to www.annualcreditreport.com .

2. Conduct an audit of all of your online accounts, usernames and passwords. If you have more online accounts than passwords, change your passwords immediately. If you haven’t used an account in more than a year, close the account.

3. If you have written down any passwords on a piece of paper or in a computer file, transfer them to an encrypted file system or password manager for better protection. Remembering a multitude of passwords can be difficult, so develop a system to create memorable and secure passwords for every account – just be sure to always include at least eight characters and use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and at least one special character.

4. When you learn about security breaches from a network or website you belong to, change your username and password immediately. Recent data breaches include Target, Neiman Marcus and certain hotels part of the Marriott, Holiday Inn and Sheraton chains.

5. Be wary of online offers that seem too good to be true. Bogus lotteries and fake prize draws informing you that you have won a large sum of money, but require you to send bank data to facilitate the payment of your prize are not legitimate. It is simply a way to get your bank account details or money from you.

6. Backup, backup, backup. Whichever system you use, make a habit of backing up your data in a place that provides encrypted storage.

7. Always use secure payment methods, never money-sending companies. In addition, absolutely do not send credit card, bank account information or sensitive data via email.

8. Protect your computer via firewalls, antivirus software and anti-spy software.

9. If you’re unfamiliar with a seller, check their identity and background. If you’ve made an online purchase with an overseas company and have a payment dispute, try to resolve it directly with that company. If that doesn’t work, visit www.econsumer.gov, where you can learn different ways to resolve your problem without taking formal legal action and report the complaint to member consumer enforcement agencies.

10. Guard your data. Never share usernames and passwords with people outside of your close trusted network, especially over a non-encrypted network.