The internet can serve as a wonderful tool to help people stay connected with friends, family, information and viral YouTube videos. But sometimes even the best tools in the world carry with them some serious safety risks. Here are our tips for keeping yourself, your identity and your family safe while surfing the internet.
You likely know a thing or two about keeping yourself safe from predators (like never accept a drink from a stranger in a bar). But what if you're leaving yourself vulnerable to online predators through the information you're casually sharing on Facebook? Women's Aid of the United Kingdom reports that nearly one in five women will experience stalking in their lifetimes, and a lot of this stalking can occur online. If you're currently experiencing online or physical stalking, please go to the Women's Aid website to download a booklet on how to protect yourself. But if you're trying to prevent predatory stalking, consider the following:
- Never use your full birthday online. Facebook birthdays are fun, but a complete birthday listing leaves you vulnerable. Leave your birth year off your profile.
- Never share your addresses. You might even consider removing your workplace information entirely. Also, remove your phone numbers. People who want to reach you can figure that out without an online listing.
- Don't "check in" anywhere. If you do, you're advertising 1) your specific location, and 2) you're not home. Not a good move.
Safeguard your identity
When people talk about internet safety, they're usually thinking of identity security. TIME Magazine recently reported that nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Of course, you should install virus protection and routinely clean your computer to remove malware. And when it comes to online sharing, follow these tips:
- Immediately delete pfishing emails. Reputable websites will not send you an email with a link that takes you to a website that asks for personal information. Never follow these links and never, ever, ever provide personal information to a link you followed from an email.
- Look for a secure connection before providing information. Before you give out any credit card info for a purchase, look at the web address bar. If the website is secure, the address will have "https://" rather than "http://".
- Don't email your passwords! Just don't do it. Hackers can easily find this information.
- Don't be a download junkie. Before you download anything, consider its source. Make sure software is from a reputable company. Avoid downloading anything from a site you don't know. And before you download anything, make sure your anti-virus software is up to date.
Safeguard your family
Last, but certainly not least, make sure that what you're sharing online doesn't put your family at risk. Unfortunately, children are often prime targets for identity theft, because the theft can sometimes go undetected for years. They are also at risk for predators, so do everything you can to protect them by following this advice:
- Avoid providing full names. In your own Facebook musings, try to avoid using your child's full name and birthday. Consider calling them by a first name only, or by an initial. With a name and specific birthday, it's easier for thieves to steal their identity.
- Keep computers in the open. This will allow you to see what your kids are doing. And rather than just observing them, talk to them about who they're chatting with and what they're talking about.
- Don't embarrass your child. I know you really, really, really want to post a status about how Timmy threw up in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese's. But remember that digital footprints will not only follow you, they'll also follow your child. Don't post anything about your child that they will be embarrassed about in a few years.
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