Enjoying the Internet while staying safe is easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Enjoying the Internet while staying safe is easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Baby Boomers may have been the first generation to grow up watching TV, but the Internet has brought a whole new meaning to sharing information. The web is a great place to connect with old friends, browse, shop or research a countless number of topics. But that connection comes with a greater need to protect yourself from dangers like scams, viruses and identify theft.

One of the first, and most important, things you can do to increase your online safety is learn how to strengthen your passwords. Most people use passwords that are easy to remember, like anniversaries or the names of family members and pets. But these easily remembered words are also easily guessed by a hacker. Using the same password on multiple accounts is even worse, because a hacker who finds one will have very little trouble getting into your other accounts as well.

To improve your online safety, you can start using more complex passwords (a random mix of numbers and letters is best) and use a different password for each of your online accounts. But that won't work if you can't remember any of your passwords. Fortunately, there are some great services like LastPass or RoboForm. After signing up, you can use the service to generate secure passwords, keep track of them and have them automatically filled in when you revisit saved sites. You only need to remember one main password to start the service.

Stronger passwords will help protect your online accounts, but surfing the web also means protecting your computer from unwanted viruses and other malware. This is easily done by installing antivirus software and purchasing a subscription to keep it up to date. There are many antivirus programs available, including some that are free like AVG AntiVirus Free. A few great paid options include programs from Norton, Bitdefender or Webroot.

When shopping online, you want to avoid scams as well as the danger of stolen credit card numbers or identity theft. One of the simplest things you can do is make sure that your online transactions are going through a secure site. Any website can say they use secure payments, but you can see for yourself by looking at the URL (address). A secure site will begin with https:// instead of http://. That little "s" at the end doesn't have to show up on every webpage, but it should be on any page that asks for your credit card number or other private information.

There are also offline things you can do to watch out for identity theft. One good practice is to choose just one, low-limit credit card to use for all of your online purchases. Check the statement carefully each month and watch out for unfamiliar purchases of any amount. Thieves will often charge one small item first to see if you notice before going on a shopping spree.

Internet thieves don't need hacking skills if they are able to trick you into giving them sensitive information, like credit card numbers, bank account information, social security numbers or login credentials. This often happens through phishing. Typically, a thief will send you an official-looking email asking you to send back your information or click on a link to take you to a form where you can upload the information.

Phishing emails can look very real, but you must proceed with caution. Most companies, especially banks and credit card companies, will not ask for any sensitive information through email. A link to a web form is a little trickier. Instead of clicking on a link from an unsolicited email, go to the official website yourself or call the company to verify that the request did come from them.

The Internet is a valuable tool for staying connected, shopping or even running your own business. You don't have to be afraid of the Internet, but you should be aware of ways to protect yourself from online predators.