The internet is a great way to connect with friends, go shopping, do business, and find information. In fact, the ways that we can use it increase on a daily business. However, just as in every aspect of life, there are potential risks. Internet scams, fraud, cyber bullying, online predators, and identity theft are all among the potential pitfalls that we face when we connect to the online environment. Thankfully, with a little knowledge, the savvy consumer should be able to easily maneuver around these would-be obstacles.
Internet Scams and Fraud
Some scams are more obvious than others. If a random stranger sends an email promising you great riches if you send them $100, chances are that you will know not to give them the cash. However, there are other types of scams and fraud that can be less apparent.
- If a friend or family member sends a message saying that they are in trouble and asking for monetary help, confirm that it is actually them before sending the money. There is a chance that their email, Facebook, or other accounts may have been hacked or spoofed. A quick phone call or facetime with your friend should help verify if it is really them. To learn more about this type of scam, visit the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0204-family-emergency-scams.
- If the government emails, leaves a notice on your computer, or calls demanding money, do not give them your information or money. Real government officials will send a notice by mail. If you still aren’t sure, you can look up their official telephone number and contact them directly to confirm. Do not use your computer to look up the information if you may have a virus. The virus could spoof the official telephone number of the office you are trying to reach. To learn more about this type of fraud, visit Stop Fraud Colorado at http://www.stopfraudcolorado.gov/fraud-center/common-scams/government-imposter-scams.
- Before making an online purchase, always check to see if the site is actually secure. It should contain an https (http) at the beginning of the URL. Also, confirm that the website is actually the one that you intended to go to, and that it is not a clone with a similar or spoofed URL. If it is a smaller company or one you are still somewhat unfamiliar with, check their online rating. You can do this by visiting the Better Business Bureau (https://www.bbb.org/) or any number of consumer feedback and ratings websites such as Consumer Affairs (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/).
- When utilizing online auctions or other multi-seller markets, check the seller’s feedback rating and keep payments within the system. Do not agree to pay someone with a different method. This will make it much harder to be reimbursed if an item never arrives or is not what you were expecting. To learn more about how to protect yourself at both online and offline auctions, visit Michigan’s Attorney General’s Office at https://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-17337_20942-192869–,00.html.
To learn more about online scams and fraud, visit the FBI at https://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/internet_fraud and USA.gov at https://www.usa.gov/online-safety.
Cyber bullying and harassment can be just as devastating as real bullying. While teens are often a target, it can happen to anyone. Cyber bullying may take the form of harassment, stalking, impersonation, trickery, and threats. If you experience cyber bullying, there are four primary steps to take:
- Disengage – Remove yourself from the situation as much as possible. Use blocking and privacy settings or simply step away from the computer until a time when it is easier to respond to the situation with a level head.
- Don’t feed the trolls! – Do not respond. In the majority of cases, it will only escalate the dispute and harassment.
- Document – Keep an electronic and paper copy of all emails, messages and other relevant content.
- Report – Do not be afraid to report the cyber bullying to authorities.
To learn more about cyber bullying and what you can do, visit Internet Safety 101 at http://www.internetsafety101.org/cyberbullying.htm, stay Safe Online at https://staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/for-parents/cyberbullying-and-harassment and The American Psychological Association at http://www.apa.org/topics/bullying/.
Predators sometimes pose as friends to get our trust. Children are particularly susceptible to this.
- Know what is going on with your child and what activities they are engaging on with the computer.
- Keep online profiles generic to avoid the potential for real life stalking.
- Watch out for warning signs such as a child becoming depressed or withdrawn.
To learn more about protecting your family from online predators, you can visit Child Refuge at http://childrefuge.org/online-predator/fighting-online-predatorstips-for-parents-children-and-teens.html or the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children at http://www.netsmartz.org/Predators.
Social media is a great way to stay in touch with everyone, both near and far, but it can also be used for phishing scams, identity theft, predatory practices and cyber bullying. There are several precautions that you can take to avoid these unpleasant realities.
- Do not provide your full name, date of birth or exact location in the public space. Use privacy settings to keep these hidden. If you are unable to keep them hidden, then alter the information. Your friends and family will still know it is you if your birthday is a few days off, you suddenly have the last name of your favorite childhood hero, or you appear to live a few towns away.
- Do not accept random friend requests. The majority of these are not genuine accounts and can be used to collect the information that you keep behind security walls.
- Change all of your privacy settings to “friends only.”
To learn more about staying safe, visit the National Crime Prevention Council at http://www.ncpc.org/topics/internet-safety/social-networking-safety or Microsoft at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/safety/online-privacy/social-networking.aspx.
Protecting Personal Information
- Do not share personal information in public forums.
- Avoid phishing scams and giving your information to unverified sources.
- Change your passwords
If you think that you have become a victim of identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov at https://www.identitytheft.gov/.
You can also get a free copy of your credit report to check for inaccuracies. For help, visit Experian at http://www.experian.com/help/identity-theft-victim-assistance.html and Equifax at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp.
To learn more, visit the University of Washington at http://www.washington.edu/doit/online-safety-tips-protecting-your-personal-information.
- Choose passwords that contain a random series of upper and lower case letters, punctuation and numbers.
- Change your passwords frequently.
- Do not use the same password across multiple sites.
- Do not stay logged into accounts on public computers.
- Do not allow any programs to save your passwords on shared computers.
To learn more about creating a strong password, visit GFC at http://www.gcflearnfree.org/internetsafety/2
You can test the strength of various types of password at https://password.kaspersky.com/.
Downloading Software and File Sharing
File sharing can be a great way to transfer files, but it also comes with unnecessary risks.
- Be aware that the file you are downloading may be a virus or malware.
- Do not unintentionally share personal files. Know what you are sharing!
- Know the law. Sharing copyrighted files can be a criminal offense.
To learn more, visit US-CERT at https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST05-007 and Cornell at http://www.it.cornell.edu/policies/copyright/filesharing/.
Always keep your computer free of viruses and malware.
- It is vital to have a good antivirus software, to keep it up to date, and to run virus scans frequently.
- Use a firewall.
- Keep your Wi-Fi network secure with strong password protection.
- Do not click on questionable links.
- Do not download potentially dangerous files or programs.
To learn more about how to keep your computer safe from hackers and virus-free, visit On Guard Online https://www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0009-computer-security and California’s Department of Justice at https://oag.ca.gov/privacy/facts/online-privacy/protect-your-computer/.
Resources for Kids
- Your Online Identity – http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/online-id.html?WT.ac=p-ra
- Kids’ Rules for Online Safety – http://www.safekids.com/kids-rules-for-online-safety/
- Tips for Staying Safe Online from McGruff The Crime Dog – http://www.mcgruff.org/#/Advice/http://www.mcgruff.org/advice/online-safety/stay-safe-online/
Resources for Teens
- Teen Internet Safety Tipshttp://teens.webmd.com/features/teen-internet-safety-tips
- Making safer choices online – http://www.nsteens.org/
- Gaming Safety Tips for Kids, Tweens, and Teens (PDF) – https://www.aacc.edu/technology/file/gamingtips.pdf
Resources for Parents
- How can I keep my kids safe online? – BBC.co.uk
- Keeping young children safe online – http://www.childnet.com/parents-and-carers/hot-topics/keeping-young-children-safe-online
- The Internet and Your Family – https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/The-Internet-and-Your-Family.aspx
Resources for Educators
- How to Teach Internet Safety to Younger Elementary Students – http://www.edutopia.org/blog/internet-safety-younger-elementary-mary-beth-hertz
- TeachersFirst’s Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship Resources – http://www.teachersfirst.com/spectopics/safety.cfm
- Online Resources to Help Teach Cybersafety – districtadministration.com/article/online-resources-help-teach-cybersafety
- Internet Safety Education (PDF) – http://www.pcs.k12.va.us/isafety/safety.pdf
Resources for Seniors
- Keeping Senior Citizens Safe Online – https://its.ny.gov/newsletter/keeping-senior-citizens-safe-online
- Cyber Tips for Older Americans (PDF) – https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Cybersecurity%20for%20Older%20Americans_0.pdf
- Online Safety Tips for Older Adults (PDF) – http://www.scranton.edu/pir/its/documents/older-adults.pdf