It’s becoming a scary world. Hackers, identity thieves, and cyber terrorists lurk waiting to steal your passwords, jack your identity, and generally muck up your world. However, along with all the threats out there come new ways to protect yourself, your finances, your credit, and your good name. Here’s what you need to do to stay safe this year.

Use Antivirus Software

Image via Flickr by Space Ritual

Most of us don’t think much about spyware and malware after the initial setup when we buy a computer. This is what cyber thieves are depending on. Invest in a reputable antivirus program, and update it regularly. Perform a system scan with this software at least once per week or daily if you regularly use public Wi-Fi with your devices. Always scan mobile devices before connecting them to your other devices, in case it’s picked up a virus.

AVG has a wonderful free antivirus package that’s absolutely free. Hint: they’ve hidden their free version. You have to install it and attempt to uninstall it before it offers you the free version. The upside is, AVG lacks the annoying pop ups and notifications common in McAfee and Norton.

Keep Printed Copies of Important Documents

Insurance policies, banking documents, legal documents and other important stuff shouldn’t just be stored in the cloud or on your PC. You need printed copies in case hackers take down your cloud server (yes, that can happen) or your system is damaged. But don’t just print out the documents and leave them sitting around. Protect yourself with wireless home security systems and a fireproof home safe.

Crank Up Your Privacy Settings

People tend to ignore privacy settings when installing apps or using social media, but these are common doorways for identity thieves. Aside from thieves, leaving this information public allows aggressive advertisers to target you for spam, annoying ads and even telemarketers. Revisit all your privacy settings, and delete apps that won’t let you remain anonymous.

Use Spam Filters

If your email server is letting in spam, tweak your filters or switch servers. Always mark spam that makes it through the filter so the software will catch it the next time. Receiving spam opens you to many dangers, such as aggressive marketing, hoax emails, fraud, and more.

Read Mailings from Your Bank and Creditors

When you get mail from the bank or one of your creditors, open and read it carefully. Often these communications let you know if their data has been compromised, and if so, what information of yours is at risk. They’ll usually outline the steps you need to take, but you have to read it to know about it.

Be Smart About Passwords

Is your password something guessable, such as your dog’s name, your daughter’s birthday, or your wife’s pet name for you? Never use the same password for different accounts (such as your computer, email, social media, and online banking account), and always choose a random word.

The best passwords include upper and lower case letters along with a number or two. Keep a document in a secure place (such as your safe or in an encrypted document) if you’re having trouble remembering all your random passwords.

If you take the right precautions, 2013 will end with your personal information safe and secure. All it takes is a little foresight on your part.