The development of any new technology in our culture requires us to adapt to what it really means to maintain safety while using it. For example, the internet has brought many new advances like online banking, email, and the ability to meet people you’ve never yet met in person when you’re not introduced by mutual friends.
You can transfer money online and handle your financial transactions without ever visiting a bank branch in person, meet people without actually meeting them in real life, and communicate without giving away your phone number or address. In some ways, being online is safer, but only if you know the basic principles of online safety.
Here are some of the questions asked most frequently about staying safe online in a variety of ways.
1. How can I maintain my identity from being stolen?
Always keep very close track of what information you have provided to which websites, companies or individuals online. Using your common sense will help greatly, but it doesn’t cover every situation if you weren’t one of those fortunate enough to have been raised with the internet always in their lives. This is why more older folks tend to have their identities stolen online, but this doesn’t have to be you no matter what age you are.
First, guard your full name, address and social security or insurance number like a hawk. Knowing these pieces of information makes it infinitely easier for a thief to steal your identity, after all. Other private pieces of information include your income, the banks you hold accounts at, and your phone number.
Typical pieces of information required to allow registration at websites include your email address and sometimes your name, but be careful about giving them out freely. Always consider what you’re getting in return and whether you’re willing to deal with telemarketing if you provide your phone number.
The ease of creating a new email account makes it a wise thing to do, particularly if your current address uses your full name. For registration on any websites and to enter into any forms except the most important (banking-related forms, for instance), use this new account and forward all email received there to your other account, if you’d like.
2. How do I prevent my password from being guessed or accounts from being hacked into?
Many people are worried about losing their accounts, as doing so can make identity theft easier, destroy their reputations, or even cost them their life savings in the case of banks.
The easiest way to prevent your password from being guessed is to create a very secure password that doesn’t have to be difficult to remember. This can be a phrase that you find easy to remember. For example, you could choose the phrase, “I was married on March 21st!” and then use the first letter of each word. “IwmoM21st!” is a secure password because of the mixture of special characters, upper-case and lower-case letters, and numbers.
Always check to ensure you’re logging into the real website, and not a fake of it, by checking the URL in the address bar carefully. For instance, instead of logging into Paypal, you may accidentally log into a spoof website called “Paybal” that tries to target people who typo the word “Paypal” when entering it.
3. How do I keep myself personally safe when talking to people I don’t know?
Keeping your personal information secure is one of the best ways to maintain your personal safety, along with using your common sense again.
Don’t give people too much identifying information, such as your full real name, address, city and region, school name, etc. All of these can be used to track you down, particularly if you are speaking in a public manner such as posting on a forum. Someone can review your past posts and use them to put together your first name, school, and area, then call the school and pose as a relative, for instance. You would be surprised at how easily this happens! Workplace and company names are much the same, as it’s easy to reach small companies.
Don’t agree to meet up with someone until you know them very well online, and even so, choose a public place in which to meet. A restaurant or coffee shop, mall, or another public place that is well-populated and -lit are good choices. You can verify that a person matches the pictures they have provided using Skype video chat if you have a webcam and microphone.
4. How do I keep my kids safe online?
Educating your children in online safety is an important task in itself. They have the advantage of being “native” to this technology, so if they are taught proper safety practices, they can do even better than you at staying safe.
Don’t assume that they know everything, though – it’s common for children to share their name, picture and school name without thinking that it could be dangerous, for instance. Always supervise their activities online until they are teenagers.
There are lots of ways young people can benefit from having their own life online – for instance, many young adults today say that the internet helped improve their social skills, expand their circle of friends, communicate with and understand other cultures, improve their literacy, and even start businesses worth six figures a year before ever reaching college.
Keeping the computer in a public place is a way to ensure you know what’s going on, but don’t be surprised if your children suddenly close windows while you’re around. You know your child best – if your child is very private in other respects and guarded, they are likely not going to be up to anything malicious, while if your child is normally open but appears guilty when you’re around and hides things, there might be something up.
Staying safe online is a pressing issue that requires more education not just of children and parents, but also of young adults, those in their mid-life who are conducting large financial transactions online, and seniors.