It’s easy to be lured into thinking that college is a carefree experience; that is until your computer is hacked, hit with a virus or malware. Now that computers play an integral part in most every college student’s academic career, make sure to get the school year off to a good start by practicing computer and online safety skills.

Know Your Book Seller: Security experts claim that a student’s money and identity can easily be stolen when textbooks are downloaded from unfamiliar websites. The same thing can occur when students download e-books from unreliable sources. Many unfamiliar textbook sites are loaded with malware and can wreak havoc on your computer. Stay clear of unfamiliar websites or sites that seem “too good to be true.”

Be wary of WiFi: Cyber criminals love to lurk on unprotected WiFi sites. Keep your identity and assignments safe by only accessing them when you are offline or on secure sites such as your university’s site or LAN networks whenever you need to access banking or personal information.

Practice safe computing: Make sure that you only visit trusted websites and purchase items from reputable seller. It is also critical that you get a strong anti-virus and malware program and update it regularly.

Stop Sharing: We have all been raised to think that sharing is a good trait. But when it comes to computers you need to be careful. Shared thumb drives, unknown e-mails and their attachments or sharing of free software can result in a computer infection. Crashed systems, lack of Internet service, acquisition of your personal information and loss of data on your computer can all occur when files are casually shared.

Practice Safe Social Networking: Students sometimes post photos, comments and personal information that can be embarrassing, illegal or dangerous. Limit the number of online friends with whom you share information and carefully consider which photos and comments you are putting online since schools and potential employers also monitor social networking sites. Any posts pertaining to drug use, drinking or other inappropriate behavior can seriously hinder your future plans!

Beware of Downloaded Movies and Videos: When obtained from untrustworthy sites, entertainment such as movies, music and games can be loaded with malware. Download your entertainment selections from safe sites, don’t be tempted by the word “free” and run everything you download through virus/malware protection tools.

Carefully Clean Public Computers: If you must use a public computer at in your dorm lounge, library or an internet café, it is important that you delete all of the history and cookies associated with your online work—and never purchase items or check financial records on public computers. Cyber criminals have been known to access this data in order to quickly gather personal information.

Watch your Surroundings: Cyber criminals have been known to casually lurk over computer users in public areas in order to obtain personal information. This type of crime is especially easy since your monitor may be facing outwards where it is easy for anyone walking by to see your Facebook page, class schedule, banking information or other personal data. If you suspect that someone is “lurking,” quickly change your screen shot or shut off the monitor momentarily. Never review financial or personal data on a public computer.

Watch Your Smart Phones: Smart phones and PDAs can also be hit with malware and viruses. Review the information that came with your smart phone or PDA and take all necessary steps to prevent personal information from being hacked from the device.

Create a Password: Every year thousands of computers are stolen from unsuspecting college students. While it is difficult enough to deal with the loss of data stored on a computer, problems can be compounded if your personal information has been store as well. A password-protected computer can prevent a thief from accessing your most personal data in case it should be stolen.

Remember that while college may be fun, cyber crime is very serious and a very real threat on many campuses. By taking proper precautions you’ll breathe a little easier. Losing a computer isn’t fun, but losing your identity gives a whole new meaning to the word stress.

Photo credit: Computer at College by Sadie Hernandez/flickr

Benjamin Reeves is a writer for technology sites and a content contributor for proxy software sites, especially innovators in the proxy field because he believe Internet privacy is as important as safeguarding the credit cards in your wallet.