The internet is a great place to do almost anything: make connections, share stories, shop, or run a business. But there’s a risk associated with using the internet, too. You can be the victim of scams designed to gather your personal information, banking information, or anything else you put on the internet. Even when you think your information is safe, there’s no way to be completely sure who has access to it now—or who will gain access to it later.
Keep Private Information Private
It’s not always possible to know who you’re talking to on the Internet. Even when you’re talking to a trusted friend, there’s no guarantee that your words and messages won’t be intercepted. Information like your address, social security number, and even the city you live in may give dangerous individuals more information about your life than you’d like. It’s important to make sure you’re protected from people whose intentions you don’t yet know.
In addition to personal information, also safeguard your password. Since it protects a lot of personal information from bank statements to shipping information, it’s essential to have a strong one. Make sure that whatever you choose, it’s not easy for someone who knows you to guess it. You should also have different passwords for each online account you use.
Know the Warning Signs of Scams
Online scams are pervasive. Cybercriminals know how to use a variety of approaches to get your information. Some scams are designed to gain access to your bank account. Others attempt to install malicious software on your computer. Know the warning signs of scams to help you avoid being the victim of one.
- Contact from a company you’ve never heard of. Look for the company, reviews of the company and other information online. If you’re not sure the people contacting you are legitimate, call the company with information you find yourself. Don’t use the numbers or email addresses given by the email.
- Read through any communications you receive and look for major grammatical errors. Poor grammar and spelling are not the signs of a legitimate company you want to do business with.
- Be aware that even a scammer can use images from a company website to make their email appear legitimate.
- Fanciful stories are often designed to lure in an interested party. If a deal online seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Some people are particularly vulnerable to scams. For example, the elderly population who have less online training and experience may be more likely to fall prey to financial scams or other types of elder abuse. Make sure to talk to the people in your life who might be vulnerable to online scams about how to recognize them, too.
Update Your Software
Keeping all your software updated is an essential part of staying safe online. Companies release critical patches that help protect your system against new vulnerabilities that are just being discovered and destroyed. For example, when a piece of malware that infected Windows computers and took over user information was released, Microsoft released a patch to even unsupported systems. Making sure your antivirus, operating system, firewall, and any other software you use are up to date with security patches may be a little effort now that saves you a great deal of trouble later.
You can set your systems to update automatically, if you prefer.
Manage Your Social Media
The stuff you post on social media can come back to haunt you in certain situations. It’s fun to share vacation photos with friends and family, but these photos uploaded in real time are also a cue that you’re out of town. Criminals have used social media posts in the past to determine who’s ripe for a break-in. Current location check-ins can reveal where you are to anyone who has the ability to look.
You should also consider that future employers will see the things you post. While it may be fun to post the videos or pictures from a college party, they can reflect badly on you in years to come. Curate the posts you make to create an image of yourself that’s positive and reflects well on you.
Set up privacy settings that keep your information confined to the circle of people you trust. Many sites also have settings for specific posts to help you further choose an audience. Don’t add people you don’t know to your social media profiles, either.
Think Before You Click
Even emails from a trusted friend could be designed by a scammer to bait you into downloading malware or giving up personal information. Many links aren’t exactly what you expect them to be. Hover over the link or copy it into your clipboard to examine it before clicking. Also consider trying to find the website through a Google search of your own.
One way to determine whether a person sent you a link legitimately is to contact them and ask. If their style of writing seems different than usual, consider doing that. It may be that they’re having a weird day. But it’s also possible their email or social media account has been taken over by someone who doesn’t have the best intentions.
Following a few simple safety procedures will help make your internet experience a positive one. Basic precautions make a world of difference when you’re online. Always keep in mind that none of your information can be guaranteed secure forever, and plan accordingly when you upload an image, type a sentence, or engage in a conversation with a person over the internet. While many people will never be the victim of a malicious person online, it’s a common enough problem that it’s worth the time to protect yourself.