Think of these tips to avoid the art of the social engineering scam. Awareness goes a long way toward defending yourself.

1. Don’t ever click a link in an email, especially if its from a bank or brokerage; PayPal or eBay. Go directly to the company’s home page and investigate before entering any personal data. Emails asking for updates or to correct problems with your personal information are fake 99.99% of the time.

2. Don’t click on links in emails to obtain free software or goods, especially if you have never heard of the company. If you think its software you might like to have, perform some Google searches to vet out any complaints or adverse comments concerning the software.

3. Don’t ever download software from a site that you are not familiar with. It may be trying to load you up with malicious programs to steal your keystrokes or other personal information. If you are at a site, and it says you need “Quicktime from Apple” or “Adobe Flash” to display content, go to Apple’s web site to download the Quicktime player or to Adobe to download their Flash program.

4. Don’t download special software to view videos. If it is a well known product, go to the home page of the producer of the software to download the program. A lot of the time, extraneous software and malicious programs are included in the “special” software you are being told to download. The video viewers that came with your PC should be able to view most any legitimate program.

5. Don’t use an out of date web browser. Use Internet Explorer 7.0 for Windows or Firefox 2.0 for Windows or the Mac. These are more bullet proof and have all the up to date security features. Apple’s Safari for the Mac is good but lacks ‘anti-phishing’ detection.

6. Don’t be without anti-phishing capabilities. If your browser doesn’t support this consider McAfee or Norton security software that contains this important feature.

7. Don’t assume anything. Be aware by reading up on social engineering scams and phishing techniques and what to do to avoid these popular scam approaches.

These tips are from Walt Mossberg’s column and can be found at his web site