Every day, you give away personal information about yourself, sometimes without even realizing it.  You do this when you take advantage of all kinds of services, including Internet searches, social networking, mobile and more. For example, if you bookmark a page on the Internet, add an item to an ecommerce “wish list,” or complete an “All About Me” quiz on a social network, the information you provide might be shared by a friend or sold to a business. In other words, the websites you visit and the Internet searches you conduct are recorded; and the information, comments and photos you post on the Internet are permanent – and public. Anyone can find them, read them, and use them for any purpose.  Ask yourself, “What does my digital footprint reveal about me?”

You can’t control how the information you provide online is used by others, but you can control your online behavior and thus, protect your online privacy. Here’s how:

  1. Never give out your full name, address, birth date, or any other personally identifiable information that could be used to impersonate you or gain access to your accounts.
  2. Read the privacy policies posted on websites and mobile apps before using their website, purchasing their product, or downloading their mobile app.
  3. Update the privacy and security settings on your social networking sites to control who sees your posts and adjust them to your personal comfort level. Don’t rely on the default settings. Be aware that identity thieves, scam artists, debt collectors, stalkers, employers, and corporations use social networks to gather information about you.
  4. Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t mind seeing on the front page of a newspaper.
  5. Make sure that your password is long, complex and combines letters, numbers, and symbols. Don’t reuse passwords on multiple accounts. Instead, choose unique passwords for each account, especially your online banking accounts.
  6. Log out of websites and browsers when you’re finished using them. Never leave your online accounts open.
  7. Be wary of sites that offer some sort of reward or prize in exchange for your contact information. And use a separate email address for your online activity – one that you can easily dispose of.
  8. Before making a purchase from an online retailer, ensure that they are to be trusted and that the transaction is secure and encrypted.
  9. Keep your devices updated. Periodically review and delete apps and games you no longer use that have access to your accounts and devices.
  10. Know what action to take if you suspect unusual activity or a breach.

Knowing how to navigate the Internet safely is essential to maintaining your privacy online. Remember that YOU decide what information about yourself to reveal, when, why, and to whom.