The internet as we know it is almost thirty years old–thirty years! Maybe that’s a small portion of your life; Maybe you’ve never known life without the web. Whatever the case, we all still need to take safety precautions when we’re on the internet.
Just because you feel comfortable with your knowledge of social media, online shopping, and online banking doesn’t make you immune to the dangers that are lurking out there. While the web is a wonderful modern luxury, it’s also an opportunity for those around the world to take advantage of its anonymity and access.
Internet safety is not a joke. Let’s take a closer look at why it’s important, then discuss how to stay safe while surfing those giant web waves.
It’s the Internet–What Could Go Wrong?
Not everyone is out to get us. The majority of people are good-willed, good-intentioned, and pretty honest. The problem is that it only takes one wicked person to cause pain, inconvenience, and even permanent damage to our lives. This is especially easy when it comes to the Internet. How?
1. Identity Theft
This is one of the more popular cybercrimes, and it’s on the rise. By getting enough of your PII (personally identifiable information), a thief can pretend that they are you. Their next step: get credit cards or apply for loans in your name. Identity thieves can also create official government IDs in your name and steal your benefits.
If your identity is stolen, you could suddenly find yourself in an unexpectedly large amount of debt, bad credit, and other problems that might be extremely difficult to recover from.
2. Financial Theft
Online crooks can be very deceptive and good at what they do. Generally, their strategy is to get you to pay for something that isn’t real. They might ask you to transfer money to them, promising a big payback. They may also blackmail you, saying they have pictures of you that you would not want to be released. Finally, you might get a message that someone has control of your computer and will wipe its data if you don’t pay them.
There are so many possibilities that there is no way to discuss them all here. New examples of financial theft on the web appear every day.
How do you identify Internet thieves? Anytime someone you don’t know, or barely know, asks for or demands money, there is a good chance they are trying to take it.
3. Personal Safety
Physical safety is a concern that many, especially young people, don’t think enough about. Many of us grew up with social media and are used to putting our entire life stories out for all to see. While it’s fun and gives us a sense of self-worth, many dangers can come from providing too much information to unknown people.
Letting strangers know where you are going and when–it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Showing addresses, license plate numbers, and other important information give would-be creeps a chance to find out where you are. Sure, most people are good-natured. However, every stranger is a potential stalker or home invader. Don’t let strangers know where you are!
4. Family and Friends Safety
If you’re not concerned with your own personal safety, you should at least consider your friends and family. The same things that we mentioned above also apply to them. If you broadcast your friend’s and family member’s information and location, you could be putting them in danger as well.
5. Personal Property
I can’t say this enough: providing too much information on the internet is a bad thing. The same data that puts you and others in danger might help thieves steal your personal property. If they know when you’re not home, they’ll see an opportunity to break in and steal your stuff.
6. Catfishing and Psychological Abuse
I have witnessed this happen. When someone gets close to a “catfisher” and trusts them, only to find out they were being lied to, the result can be significant psychological damage.
Catfishing, or someone pretending to be who they are not, can be devastating. It can cause mental despair and anguish. It might influence victims to send money or provide personal information that can be used to harm others.
7. Exposure of Minors to Adult Materials
If you have young children, they are most likely already using the internet—and, unfortunately, they probably know more than you think. With search engines and alluring ads, it can be easy for a child to stumble onto a site containing materials they shouldn’t ever see. This can result in issues that have long-lasting, terrible effects.
Tips for Being Safe on the Internet
We’ve seen some of the major concerns about using the internet. Now, let’s take a look at how to be safe while exploring it.
1. Always Know Where You Are
Look out for funky URLs. Make sure the URL or web address in the URL field is the address you expect. Many links, particularly those listed in phishing emails, might be designed to trick you. They appear to link to a site you’re familiar with. When you click it, though, you’re taken to a dummy site. From there, thieves can obtain personal information or inject a virus or tracking software onto your computer.
Whenever you see a link, just hover your mouse pointer over the top of it. You should see the true address that the link points to in your web browser’s lower right corner. If it’s very different from the link description, you have good reason to be suspicious. Don’t click on it!
2. Don’t Rush
Take your time and make sure you know what you’re doing when on the web. If you’re signing up for something or purchasing from a new site, research it first to make sure it’s legit.
3. If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
That’s an old adage I learned from my father that he learned from my Grandfather. They were talking about financial deals in general—but this can be applied to the internet. Impossible-looking online deals or giveaways are usually cons. Their purpose is to get you to enter information. Be suspicious, and do your research before shelling out any personal data.
4. Storing Credit Card Info With Retailers And Others
Be leary of storing credit card info on retail websites or applications. If you make frequent purchases, doing so is tempting—it makes buying things so easy! But if someone can log in to your account, they can also buy whatever they want.
5. PII – Personally Identifiable Information
Be very careful giving your PII out. Try to do so only when absolutely necessary. Social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, birth dates, addresses are often not needed for most social media or retail accounts. And those pieces of information are what thieves will use to steal your identity. Keep them safe!
If a website forces you to provide a birthdate or address, change the numbers slightly so that thieves can’t get your real ones. If it’s not an official bank account or government-type account, never provide SSNs or other invaluable data.
6. Unknown followers
This is tempting for social media users who want as many followers as possible. The danger is, if you have followers who you don’t know, they could be someone who could cause you harm. It’s best to ensure that you know who your followers, friends, and associates are in your social media circles.
7. Too much information – Social Media
Don’t provide too much information about your daily life on social media. Letting everyone know where you are, where you are going, and what you are doing can be fun. Still, it can also provide a criminal with enough information to harm you, your family, and friends.
Also, be careful that pictures do not provide unwanted information, such as addresses or license plate numbers.
8. Avoid Unscrupulous Web Sites
Sites that contain pornographic, unregulated gambling or contraband materials are the number one places to get into trouble on the web. Because they are tempting, they get people to provide information and place viruses or tracking software on your computer. Avoiding these types of sites can save you many headaches.
9. Use a VPN
A VPN or virtual private network can provide extra protection to your home network and computers in general. VPNs make it harder for hackers to get into your systems and get information such as IP addresses. SoftwareHow has comprehensive resources on web privacy here.
10. Parental Controls
If you have young children using the internet, it’s always good to have parental controls. Some can be set up on your network router or VPN. There are even apps that can do this. They help prevent your children from stumbling into sites that you don’t want them to see or experience. Find some great parental control resources here.
11. Follow Your Intuition
If something does not seem right or you are suspicious, there’s a good chance something’s wrong. Follow your gut.
Be cautious and make sure that you investigate whatever it is that you are doing. Don’t get caught up in a dopamine rush and do something that you regret later or let a “phishing” site lead you down a path that will end badly.
As always, use strong passwords. Never give them out to anyone, and change them frequently. Passwords are the first line of protection for your accounts, networks, and devices. Want to learn more, or looking for a resource for storing your passwords safely? Read more here.
Internet safety and security is, and always will be, paramount. The internet is a powerful and exciting tool that all of us will continue to use, but it’s just as powerful for those who wish to harm us. Keep safety in mind as you wander down the information superhighway.
Let us know what internet safety concerns you have. We would love to hear from you.