The Internet touches almost every aspect of our lives, including shopping, work, education, information gathering, social networking and entertainment.  The Net offers a huge resource that continues to grow daily and is only limited by our imagination. But in spite of all its pluses, it also opens up an avenue for criminals who will try to steal your money, your identity or your personal information. So, what can you do to make your activity on the Net a safe and enjoyable experience? 
The last few years has seen a dramatic shift to online retailers. There are a variety of phishers and fraudsters who are continually finding ways to illegally “snatch” the identity of unsuspecting online shoppers. To help ensure a safe online experience, sometimes just simple awareness is the shopper’s best first line of defense.  A red flag should go up immediately when you see some of the more common “phishing” tactics, which may include a suspicious looking URL (Web address), obvious misspellings or an urgent request for banking or personal information. 
There may be times when a tempting offer shows up in your e-mail box. If something looks out of place or is a strange combination of numbers and letters, don’t click on the links.  It’s best to try and determine the website and then navigate to that address – then you can verify that “tempting offer.”
Many online stores display the site seal of their SSL (Secure Socket Layers).  This helps ensure that the Internet transmissions are encrypted and the identity of the merchant has been verified.  As a consumer we can verify if a site uses SSL by the “https://” before the URL in the address bar, instead of the standard “http://” format.
Be cautious when connected to a public Wi-Fi or using public computers. In these situations, don’t access your personal documents or online bank accounts. It’s possible that someone can be nearby and intercept your data.  Also, make sure that you log out of any Web sessions that store personal account or banking information.
A major concern many people have is the theft of their identity.  It can happen when a thief steals key pieces of your personal identifying information, such as your date of birth or social security number.  This information can be obtained in many ways, such as “phishing” on the Web, common thievery of your wallet, stealing your mail, or skimming your credit card numbers, just to name a few.
To be aware if fraudulent activity has occurred in any of your accounts, you should review your credit reports on a regular basis. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus. Your report may be ordered online at (Make sure you are at the legitimate site, as there are many websites that offer “free credit reports” for a fee.)  This central site allows you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You may also request your report by calling 1-877-322-8228.
Reviewing your credit reports on a regular basis will help you be proactive in protecting your personal identity and staying safe online.

Nick Morris is the owner of the Safety & Security Store at 622 Baxter Avenue. He can be reached at (502) 587-8273.