The Basics of Online Safety

The Internet presents dangers to everyone who uses it, regardless of age. There are certain online safety guidelines that every Internet user should follow. For example, everyone should make sure they're only visiting secure websites. But different age groups use the Internet for different things. Kids, teens, and adults must also be aware of the specific safety issues they may face with typical online activities.

Basic Online Safety For Kids

Children who use the Internet for games or YouTube videos can easily find themselves on an unfamiliar site within a few clicks. It’s important that kids who use the Internet understand a few safety rules:

  • Don’t talk to strangers on the Internet, and if someone messages you, you don’t need to respond.
  • Don’t post pictures of yourself online or share private information with anyone.
  • Never download anything from the Internet without a parent or guardian’s permission.
  • If you accidentally go to a website you shouldn’t be on, tell a family member or guardian.

Screen time limits, app restrictions, and parental controls can be useful for parents of Internet-savvy children. There are many great educational sites for kids out there. But it's important that kids know how to keep themselves safe online.

Basic Online Safety For Teens

Teenagers usually have a better understanding of Internet safety, but social media and online dating present their own set of problems. See the Social Media and Online Dating sections below for more details on staying safe online. The most important thing for teens to remember is that everything online has an impact. Posts can’t be permanently erased, and while cyberbullying may seem okay behind a screen, those messages reach real people.

Passwords

Passwords are a critical part of online safety, but their importance is often overlooked. If your passwords for sensitive accounts fall into the wrong hands, your safety is at risk.

A password needs to be three things: strong, impersonal, and unique. Strong passwords require a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Make sure that your password has no personal information. Don’t use anniversaries, birthdays, pet names, or  details about your life.

Even if you use numbers and special characters, making a password personal makes it easier to guess. Finally, never use a password more than once. It may be annoying at first, but having unique passwords for each account will keep you safer online.

Most importantly, never share your passwords with others. Write them down on paper and keep them in a secure, non-digital place. If you’re not sure how strong your passwords are, run them through the Password Strength Test to find out.

Scams

The Internet is full of scams—and, unfortunately, scam victims. They are one of the biggest threats to your online safety. It can be incredibly helpful to know what to watch out for. Charity scams, email phishing scams, and social media scams are just a few of the potential pitfalls online.

Here's a great rule: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For example, don’t click on any links that claim you’ve won something or been entered in a contest. These are not legitimate.

Never open emails from unknown sources. Before giving money or information anywhere, research first; make sure the person or organization is legit. Scams, especially charity scams, spike in frequency after big events or natural disasters. Don’t be lured in by online predators claiming to help organizations that don’t exist.

Exercise caution when anyone asks for money or tells you “immediate action” is necessary. Do research before clicking any links or giving out valuable information.

Email

Email phishing has unfortunately gotten more common as email use increases. Phishing targets users in hopes that they’ll reveal account information or give money. Sometimes malware can be installed on your computer by users simply clicking a link in a suspicious email. The emails look legitimate, which tricks users into giving up information or clicking suspicious links.

Recognizing phishing red flags can help users spot deceptive emails. If the email has an unknown sender, was sent at an odd hour, or has unexpected attachments, it's likely an unsafe email. If you recognize that an email isn’t legitimate, don’t open it; it’s safer to delete the message than to risk your online safety.

Spam email deserves to be considered if only for purposes of emptying your inbox. A clear inbox helps your computer’s security software run smoother. If you're not sure where an email came from, it may be possible to trace the email to the original source Knowing who sent the email may help determine whether or not the email is fake.

Dating

Online dating has grown significantly in popularity through websites like eHarmony and Match.com. It can even be done on a phone now through apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. Online dating makes it far more convenient for partners to meet online. But it also exposes you to more digital dangers.

Catfishing is the most concerning safety threat when using online dating apps. A catfish will pose as someone else in order to get something from victims. When using online dating apps or sites, watch for these catfish warning signs:

  • They never show their face
  • Your relationship moves along much faster than normal
  • The person asks for money or financial assistance
  • They only send pictures and turn down all requests for video calls

You have to share a certain amount of personal information online for dating apps. But try to limit what you do share for your own safety. Don’t publicly put out your birthdate or specific location if you can help it. Never share passwords or personal information like your home address, date of birth, or Social Security number.

Online dating can also be risky for someone unfamiliar with the Internet. If you’re older and looking to get into online dating, read our comprehensive guide in order to keep yourself safe.

Shopping

Shopping has become another popular online activity. It’s convenient and often opens shoppers up to more options than could be found in-store. But it’s important to keep online safety in mind when shopping on the Internet. Scams and stolen information are always a risk.

Never save your card information when shopping online. The temptation to keep everything saved for future convenience is strong. Ultimately, though, entering your card information with each order is the safer option.

The same goes for store accounts. Log out after each visit, just to ensure that your information is not at risk for theft.

Some shopping websites are safer than others. Sites like Wish and Shein have garnered poor reputations for failing to keep users’ credit card information safe. Additionally, their products are often not as they seem. The same rule of thumb for scams and online dating applies here, too. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

If you’re new to online shopping and worried about staying safe, check out our comprehensive guide to online shopping here.

Social Media

Online safety is perhaps most difficult when it comes to social media. There are many things to keep in mind here. You can't completely erase anything you post on social networks, even if it’s deleted from an account. Social media etiquette can keep you from finding yourself in a sticky situation at work or a professional environment later. Don’t post anything that's illegal or that isn't professional.

Although social media prompts users to share personal information, consider what’s really necessary to share and what is better kept private. Publicly posting your addresses, phone numbers, or current location is never a good idea, even in the spirit of updating followers. Home invaders can make use of this information to know when you’re away.

Keep your passwords secure and consider changing your passwords once a year. This will keep your accounts safer from hackers online. Finally, for more information on keeping your social media accounts safe, check out our guide to social media and online privacy.

 

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