Worried about online safety?

The Internet is a great resource. There’s lots to do online. You can make friends, share opinions, find a date, book a trip, make purchases and even pay your bills. It’s a tool you won’t want to do without.

But how do you connect with others without becoming prey for the small percentage who use the Internet to hurt and defraud others? 

Here are some tips so you can enjoy your time online confidently.

Keep your skeptics hat on:
Most people on the Internet are honest people and legitimate businesses. However, because it can be quick – and easy – to set up a website or write an email, there are those who use the Internet to misrepresent themselves. 

Anyone can claim to have insider stock information in a chat room, or put up a professional looking web page.

Many of us have been trained to treat the written word as sacred. But on the Internet, it can all be just talk! So be skeptical. It’s important to keep your eyes open! It’s the old adage: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Protect your money:
When doing business online, it’s especially important to be aware of how Intnet technology works.

To prevent the possibility of your financial information getting into the wrong hands, keep a few things in mind before shopping online:

  • Consider having a credit card with a limit of less than $500 to use for online purchases, just in case.
  • Before typing financial information into a form, check that the form is secure. 
  • You can tell a form is secure if the web address at the top of your web browser starts with https:// (and not just http://) – the s stands for secure!
  • Make sure that you are using an up to date web browser that includes the latest encryption technology.
  • Do business with online companies you have heard of and trust.
  • Keep your passwords safe – don’t give them out and don’t use the same password everywhere you go.
Next page: Protect your personal information

Protect your personal information:

  • Check the privacy policy
Before you give personal information to a website, be sure that you understand how it will be used. Sites that ask you to fill out a form should have a privacy statement that details whether information will be shared and with whom.

Be wary of doing business with sites which request personal information but do not post privacy policies. Be careful with information that could be used to contact you off-line.
  • Be mysterious
Profiles for chat rooms, instant messenger programs, web-based email, and forums may be visible to just about anyone who visits that site. It’s better to give out too little information than too much. You can always share more later on.

It’s not unfriendly to play it safe! Never include your phone number or address in these kinds of profiles.  

Email safety:
  • What’s in a name?
If you use a small Internet Service Provider that could indicate where you live, and have an unusual name, you may want to make sure your outgoing mail only has your first name on it.
  • Smart Signatures
Signature files add text to the bottom of each email you send. Never include your phone number, or mailing address in your signature file.  Decide carefully whether you want the recipient of your email to have this information.  Don’t send it out routinely.
  • Email is not secure
Never send credit card information or account numbers in an email message. There are programs that can check email for numbers that look like credit cards and send your credit card number to someone else. 
  • Get inoculated
Don’t fall prey to a virus – make sure you have an up to date virus scanner installed. You can read more about viruses online at: http://www.50plus.com/virusguide.cfm

Jennifer Gruden is the Volunteer Co-ordinator for 50Plus.com.