The internet is an integral part of daily life for many of us, permeating our work, home and social lives.

The more time we spend online, the more personal information we share, and there are dishonest people out there who may attempt to use your data for their own purpose. 

[Read more: Don't get hacked be cyber aware]

It is a something you need to be aware of, Panorama even dedicated a show to it - 'How Hackers Steal Your ID.' 

Fortunately the chances of something happening are rare, but there is no harm in being prepared and taking precautions.

Here we’ll show you some of the online scams to look for and simple tips to help you protect yourself.

Online risks

1: Computer malware

There are numerous types of malware.

  • SpyWare is malicious software that installs itself on your computer and works in the background, so you don’t know it is there. It installs itself on your computer and tracks information such as what websites you visit, and personal data such as usernames, passwords and log-in details. This information is then sent back to its creators.
  • A keylogger is a type of spyware that records every tap you make on your keyboard and matches it to web pages you’ve visited.
  • Adware installs itself discretely on your computer and downloads adverts when you are online, these often display as pop-ups adverts. Check out the video above to find out how to remove unwanted pop-ups.

Find out more information in our article What is a computer virus?

2: Scam emails

There are numerous internet scams to be aware of. Phishing is when criminals attempt to trick you in order to obtain personal information over email.

[Related story: How to deal with fraudulent emails]

You might receive an email that looks like it’s from a genuine company such as a bank or shop asking for personal details or click a link.

Reputable companies (such as BT) will never send emails asking for account verification or password details.

Look for spelling mistakes within the email and check out the sender’s email address, which should give to clues as to its authenticity.

If you are in doubt, delete the email and don’t open any attachments or click any links.

If you suspect your messages have been read it’s important to act quickly.

If BT suspects your email account has been compromised we will make you change your passwords.

For more detailed advice check out the links below.

BT Yahoo Mail: compromised accounts

BT Mail: compromised accounts 

Padlock cards on keyboard

3: Identity theft

This is when personal details such as your name, date of birth and places of birth are stolen and someone pretends to be you in order to commit fraud.

Identity fraud is when your stolen identity is used to commit criminal activity, such as taking out a phone contract in your name or using your credit card details to buy things online.

4: Hacking

Over the last couple of years here have been a spate of high-profile online hacking cases.

Make sure you change your password regularly and keep software updated. See step 4 below to find out more.

Six tips to protect your identity online 

Tip 1: Use security software

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself online is to install security software on your computer.

Security software such as BT Virus Protect, which is free to BT customers, will locate and stop viruses so they can’t cause any damage to your computer.

BT Virus Protect also offers firewall, virus and spyware protection, it includes a warning system alerting you to phishing emails and protects against identity theft.

Parents with young children can also take advantage of its parental controls, to block adult content.

Find out more about BT Virus Protect

2: Activate BT Web Protect

BT Web Protect is free to broadband customers. It warns you if you are about to visit an unsafe website or click on an unsafe link. You don’t need to download it, just activate it by logging into My BT.

3: Update your browser software

Whether you use Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, it’s essential to keep your browser up to date with the latest software updates.

Web security issues are ongoing and Microsoft and others continually release updates for their browsers to fix security holes.

The most effective way is to enable automatic updates. Click the Start button and type Windows Update. Click Change Settings and select the setting you want from the Important updates menu.

4: Passwords

One of the easiest ways for hackers to get access to your information is by guessing your password. They use sophisticated machines that process sequences of passwords each second.

Despite this many people continue to use weak passwords, the 2014 ‘Worst Passwords’ report found that 123456 and password were the most common.

Code with word password in red

Make sure you choose a combination of upper and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers. Don’t use the same password across multiple accounts.

For advice on choosing a password check out our article: How to create the ultimate uncrackable password

If you are worry about remembering complicated passwords for multiple accounts try a password manager like LastPass or KeePass, which use strong encryption to store your passwords online behind a master password.

Finally, make sure your password is secret, don’t share it with anyone and make sure you log out of public computers.

5: Secure browsing

Be extra vigilant when browsing the internet, especially on websites where you are required to enter personal information or payment details. If the website doesn’t use an encrypted connection, it’s susceptible to being intercepted.

Look for ‘https’ at the beginning of the URL - the ‘s’ stands for secure and means personal information is being transmitted securely.  You can also look for a lock icon.

Some websites use VeriSign and ISIS logos, this means they have been verified as secure by the two security organisations. Remember mind that just because a website doesn’t have one of these logos, doesn’t mean it’s not secure.

Check out our article How safe and secure are your favourite websites? to find out more.

6: Destroy personal information

Although more and more of us are managing our money online, paper bills are common.

It’s really important to destroy unused documents, otherwise they are an easy source of personal information for fraudsters. They could easily get hold of your personal details and even bank account numbers.

The best way to do this is by using a shredder to destroy old documents: prices start at around £20 online.

BT Extras banner