Really Good Safety Series: How Safe Are You Online?
If it seems odd that your 85-year old Aunt Susie is sending you a link to a YouTube video with the caption, “Yo! Great rap video!”, chances are that her email account has been hacked. Staying safe online is just as important as staying safe in your home or while out exercising. Thieves can gain more information about you through your online activity and the safeguards that you do not take, than they can in almost any other way. Crime Prevention Officer Sean Viara, of the North Port Police Department, shares with us some of the most important things to consider while navigating the Internet and your online activity.
Officer Viara stresses that emails that contain attachments, unusual links, or are from unknown senders should never be opened, nor should the links be clicked on. “Viruses send out emails that look like they are from someone you know,” he says. The email that looks like it is from Aunt Susie is a perfect example of an email account that has probably been hacked. If you think that she is really trying to send you a rap video link, email or call her to get the information.
Changing your passwords frequently and including numbers and symbols in them will go a long way to safeguarding your privacy on websites and email accounts. While it will not prevent the most tenacious hackers from getting into your accounts, it can stop some everyday threats. A couple of other steps that you can take to prevent online threats are to only download files from websites that you trust, and always use the “x” to close pop up boxes instead of hitting “cancel.”
It is important to download and keep up-to-date your Firewalls and Anti-Spyware programs on your computer. They prevent viruses, worms, trojans, and spyware applications from “breaking into” your computer. Officer Viara strongly suggests that you “secure your computer like you secure your home every night” to prevent hackers from infecting your files and obtaining your private information.
What you do online can also expose you to threats. Geo-tagging photos that you upload, for example, exposes you to a variety of potential criminals. Not only can people follow your movements around town, but they can also get a glimpse into your home and of your family. Officer Viara points out that when you geo-tag photos you are giving the world access to your movements and activity. If you take a picture of your brand new big screen television and geo-tag where you are, you will be making criminals very happy. Be sure to check your phone or computer’s settings to turn geo-tagging off.
Along with geo-tagging is the practice of broadcasting where you are and where you will be. Four-Square, Facebook’s “Check In” feature, and geo-tagging on Twitter let the world know exactly where you are at any given time. This information is not only perfect for someone who may want to follow or stalk you, but it is also great information for thieves. If you check in that you are at Disney World, that tells the world that your home is empty which makes it a perfect target for criminal mischief. If you absolutely have to let friends know where you are at any given moment, send them a private text message or give them a call.
Your location and photos are not the only private information about you that is out there on the Internet. Sites like spokeo.com offer a frightening look at the information anyone can get about you by simply typing in your name, phone number or email address. Officer Viara encourages you to go type in your email address or name and see what information is out there. To remove your information from sites like that, you will need to find the “Opt Out” option which is usually located under the “Privacy” link.
Did you know that anyone can track your name when it appears on the Internet? Through Google Alerts, you can request a daily digest every time a word, phrase or name appears on the Internet. While it might be a good idea to set up an alert on your own name to track where it appears on the web, just keep in mind that anyone else can also set up an alert with your name.
Lastly, Officer Viara recommends that you take the time to read the privacy statements that companies have you check or sign. Not only do many of them gain permission to distribute your personal information to other companies, but your consent also allows them to disclose spending habits or purchase patterns. Be sure to click on the “Opt Out” option to make sure that only the company who you give direct permission to, uses your information.
Keep yourself safe on the Internet by taking the necessary measures to safeguard your information. Install the appropriate firewall and anti-spyware programs to ensure that your computer is also secure. By taking the appropriate measures, you can keep yourself and your family safer while browsing the Internet and working online.
Congratulations! You have stumbled upon a Secret Giveaway. To enter today’s giveaway, please go to spokeo.com, see what information about you is available online, then come back and report on what you found by leaving a comment. Remember that you can protect your private information by going to the “Privacy” tab on the site. One random comment left before 11:59pm EST on April 22, 2011 will be chosen to win The Dog Ate My Homework Collection Box. This fun box is perfect for any grade level and is sure to make turning in homework a task not to be dreaded. When not in use it folds flat for easy storage. The winner will be announced on Saturday, April 23rd on our Facebook page. Thanks for playing and good luck!