Many people use the internet to communicate and socialise with their friends by posting messages, photos and other information. Maintaining your online privacy depends on your ability to control the amount of personal information that you provide and who has access to that information. Once information is posted on the internet it can be very hard, if not impossible, to completely remove.
Carefully choose how much personal information you post or share online. Once information is on a social networking site it's essentially public information. Potentially anyone can see your information including employers or other family members. There are tools to help you limit who sees the information but be aware that they're not failsafe.
Use privacy settings and categories such as friends only' to limit who can see your information. But you need to be aware that your information could still be seen by people you didn't expect. For example, your friends may republish the information without controls over who sees it. Treat posting messages and uploading photos as publishing your information.
Don't put date of birth, your mother's maiden name or contact details on your page. People who share identity information, addresses, telephone numbers, holiday plans and other personal information put themselves and their family at a greater risk of identity theft, stalking and harassment.
Think before you upload. Is the information you are sharing something you want your future employers, friends or family to see? Posting something offensive about another person or business may reflect badly on you and may have legal consequences. Posting pictures of your expensive belongings could make you a target for burglary if a thief manages to find out your address.
Get consent from friends and family before posting information or photos about them. Their privacy is in your hands. Will they be comfortable with you posting information about them online?
Be wary of strangers. Some people deliberately disguise who they really are. If you have online friends you have never met, be careful about the amount of information that you reveal about yourself, and don't agree to meet them in person. Be particularly alert if they start asking you for money.
Use familiar websites. Use well known websites or websites of companies that have a good reputation instead of browsing the internet. Large retailers commonly have an online store.
Use a secure payment method. Only use websites that offer a secure internet connection. Check for https at the beginning of the address bar and a locked padlock in the browser. Use a low-limit credit card to further reduce your risk.
Be wary of adverts, even for companies you know. Adverts are sometimes posted by scammers to direct you to a fake website which could steal your personal information like passwords and credit card details.
Check auction feedback for negative comments about traders. Auction websites like TradeMe and eBay use a feedback rating system. Check the comments left by previous buyers and sellers.
Be wary of suspicious behaviour. If the seller asks you to bypass the auction process or to pay into an overseas bank account, be on your guard. Many of these requests are from scammers, or leave you without any protection.
Use a secure computer for access. Use your home or work computer for transactions involving highly sensitive information. Avoid public computers like those at internet cafes, libraries, airports and hotels as they are more likely to be infected by malicious software.
Access your bank website by typing the address directly into the browser or select the website from your favourites tab. Never follow a link to your banking website. It could be a hoax directing you to a fake website.
Set a strong password and update it regularly. Passwords should be at more than 8 characters long and consist of a mixture of upper and lower case letters and at least one non-letter character. Change passwords regularly, at least every 30 days. Don't use the same password in more than one place. Don't choose a password that is easily identified with you (for example, your date of birth, telephone number or your name or any part of it). Do not base your password on a single word.
Be suspicious of unexpected emails claiming to be from your bank. Banks don't do business via email and they never ask you for confidential information via email.
Have more than one email address. Use a separate account for personal emails and another for online shopping/financial transactions. This reduces your risk if your email, or someone you deal with, has their email system hacked.
Be wary of emails from people you don't know offering money or deals too good to be true. The offer is likely to be a hoax or scam.
Be aware of phishing emails. These are fake emails that appear to come from trusted organisations like your bank, but are intended to trick you into disclosing information. Don't answer emails that inform you about some problem and then request passwords, pin numbers or credit card details. Contact the organisation directly if you want to know whether the problem is genuine.
Never use a link to your online banking that is sent to you by email. The link will almost certainly take you to a fake website, which could steal your banking login details.
Never email details such as password or bank account/credit card details. Most emails sent over the internet are not protected from snooping by hackers.
Don't respond to unsolicited (spam) emails. By responding, you are confirming to the sender that your email address is valid. This can open you up to more spam emails.
Protect your friends and associates. Use Bcc (blind copy) when sending an email to a large group of recipients so their email addresses remain hidden from others. When forwarding an email, delete the previous recipients' email addresses from the email text.
Log off at the end of your session. Otherwise, the next user can see where you've been and what you have done.
Don't save your user name and password. The next person using the computer may be able to access your accounts if you forget to log off before leaving.
Don't access any sensitive information online. Public computers may have malicious software installed that can capture your password, credit card number and bank details.
Delete your browsing history before you log out of the computer. Internet browsers store information about your passwords and the websites you visited.
Consider how much personal information you give. If a website asks for information about you, you have a choice about what information you provide. You can refuse to provide the information because the information asked for may seem to be unnecessary. But you may not receive the service offered.
Read website privacy notices. If a website has a privacy notice this may give the purpose for collecting personal information. It may also say how the website uses and shares information and the choices you have. Make sure you keep up to date with changes to privacy policies - many sites, such as Facebook, change them regularly.
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