Playing It Safe on the Internet

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio

From getting the latest breaking news and socializing with friends to paying bills and picking out gifts, the Internet affords us many conveniences and luxuries. Many of us can find exactly what we are seeking without even cracking open a book. Unfortunately, what some may not realize is that the conveniences afforded to us by using the Internet also come with safety and privacy concerns. And since “surfing the ‘Net’” seems to be all the rage these days, parents have even more to be concerned about when monitoring their children’s computer time.

What many are asking these days is, how much is too much to disclose about yourself — or your child — on the Internet. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter make it all too easy to know where someone is and what they are doing at any particular time, not to mention birthdates, anniversaries, and other special and potentially sensitive information. While these sites offer much value in networking and catching up with friends,  where should we draw the line between safety and socialization?

To help protect yourself and your family from identity theft, sexual predators, hackers, phishing scams, and other online safety concerns, consider these tips on Internet safety for all ages:

• If you do use chat rooms, only chat with your friends. Not everyone on the Internet is who they say they are.

• Think before you send. Remember that what you put on the Internet stays out there forever. It’s your job to protect your own reputation. Use discretion when choosing photos of yourself to post online.

• Keep your personal information private. Don’t give out your phone number or your address. Don’t list any sports teams you are on or the school you attend. Avoid sharing birthdates or other identifying facts.

• Don’t ever agree to meet anyone you met online.

• Use privacy settings on your social networking tools. You can help to keep your personal information private with these settings.

• “Sexting” can get you in trouble with school and the law. Don’t send or forward inappropriate text messages or pictures.

• Tell an adult about things you see online that make you uncomfortable. Your parents, teachers, or a trusted friend or neighbor can help in these situations to make you feel safer.

• Treat people online with respect. Don’t participate in cyber-bullying.

• Report cyber bully crime — don’t put up with it. Local or state computer crime units and the Attorney General’s website all offer assistance in putting a stop to cyber bullies. Take advantage of it!

Personal Information Protection

One can never be too careful when sending and receiving information on the Internet — especially in cases where personal financial information is at risk. From paying bills online to checking your bank accounts to doing a little online shopping, the Internet offers great expediency in so many areas of life.

“The critical thing is people need to be aware that the instances of other people trying to get their information are rapidly growing, so it’s important that people have themselves protected against intrusion,” says John Weber of J2 Tech, a business technology consulting firm specializing in sales and service, design and publishing, network configuration, training, and support in Allentown.

“My feeling is the biggest problem is the phishing that‘s going on,” he adds. “They’re getting better and better at it and we find more and more clients have fallen for websites that make it look like they are an antivirus utility — and that actually installs the virus on their system. The people doing this are getting more and more creative. E-mails look like they are coming from their bank. When you click a link on the e-mail, it takes you to a website that looks just like your bank and it asks you for your login, social security number, password, etc. It’s important not only to have some kind of protection on the computer but also to use common sense. Your bank will never send you an email asking for your information. No bank in the country will do that.”

Weber advises all computer users to have both antivirus and antispyware programs installed on their computers.

“Also, you have to use common sense because they will get past the software; they are always coming out with new ways,” he warns.

Keeping a few basic principles in mind about Internet safety should help to ease our minds a little bit when exposing our personal or financial information online, even briefly.

Easy Online Safety Tips to Remember:

• Use a secure, password-protected file (like the free program KeePass Password Safe) if you need to store your passwords and financial information.

• Use caution when making purchases online and only shop at retailers you trust. Ensure you are inputting credit card or bank data only on secure Web sites. (Look for the lock icon in the lower-right corner.)

• Use firewalls to protect your home computer network from hackers.

• Proceed with caution when using file-sharing software. It can open your computer to hackers.

• If using an online bank, ensure it is legitimate and confirm that your deposits are ensured.

Kathryn M. D’Imperio is a freelance writer and Internet marketing specialist in Pennsylvania with a focus on social networking for businesses. She enjoys writing for print and Web publications and staying connected online.

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