Staying Safe from the Hidden Dangers of the Internet

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In this time of change, more and more people have turned to the Internet. Many are working from home, more shopping is being done online, many schools are offering virtual options for students. Unfortunately, criminals are also taking advantage of these changes. There are hidden dangers of the internet that we need to be aware of.

How do we keep ourselves and our children safe in this context?

First and foremost, realize that sitting in the safety of your home while surfing the Net isn’t the same as being safe. While there are the minor inconveniences of trolls – bad enough and a total energy suck – unfortunately, there are darker elements at play as well.

Particularly, I’m thinking of child traffickers looking for victims. Many of these freaks hang out on discussion boards and in chat rooms. They’re very skilled at both lying and manipulation, pretending to be a friend as they seek to lure the child away from home without their parent’s knowledge. Once in their possession, the child is often used for slave labor and sex trafficking.

This is a sad reality but one which must be faced. Online scams are everywhere, from pharmacies that promise prescription drugs without a prescription to phishing emails. People can appear to be whomever they wish on the Internet, and sites can appear very legitimate despite not being so.

So how do we protect ourselves?

When it comes to getting our accounts hacked, we can do a couple of things.

One is to set strong passwords and if possible, use names that don’t identify us directly. Strong passwords are generally held to contain numbers, letters, and special characters with at least one uppercase letter. The longer the better! I use phrases that are 20 characters long for my financial accounts. I also put the uppercase character somewhere other than up front, ditto with the numbers.

Don’t use your birthday, SSN, pet’s name, or mother’s maiden name for your password! There’s a huge difference in safety between password123 and #ILove26Preppers! Check here for more information on password safety.

Usernames identify us online and can be used to research more information.

Social media sites such as Facebook (and others) have become notorious for data mining, and who writes those crazy name games anyway? What information are you giving out when you publicly state your Elf name using your month and approximate day of birth? What personal information are you giving out when you post answers to things like:

  • How many times have you been married?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

If you’re curious as to just how far this can go, I suggest typing your own name into your favorite search engine. You might be very surprised at the results! I didn’t play those games when I was on social media.

Most certainly I didn’t cooperate when the random game generator asked for permission to access my photos and friend’s list. Why is that information even needed to generate a random result, such as who I allegedly was in a past life, and who is storing this information? Better IMO to not give it up.

Criminals are lawbreakers, not idiots, and every database is potentially hackable.

Another thing to avoid is accepting direct messages from people you don’t know.

Once the message is accepted, the sender can see if you’re online and when. This can be a pain if they’re stalking you. While we’re at it, why not check your privacy settings on your personal page?

At the very least, check these on your Facebook to ensure the general public can’t see photos and posts you thought were Friends only. And remember, your profile picture and page banner are always set to Public. Perhaps your house isn’t the best choice for a banner, nor is a recent picture of you or your child.

So we’ve covered usernames, passwords, and some social media behaviors. How about photos? What information is being given in the photos we post on social media?

Are you familiar with metadata?

If you’re not familiar with metadata, it’s time to start learning about it. Metadata is information encoded into pictures every time you take one. It can include boring stuff like what kind of camera and software made the image.

It can also include location data, in both map and GPS form. Your GPS coordinates can lead a criminal to your front door. Metadata is very easy to view. There are many Internet sites that allow viewing for the trouble of dropping your photo on the site. For more information on metadata, check HERE.

For more information on not only protecting yourself, but on avoiding some of these monster data collection agencies, check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to Starving the Beast.

Even online gaming can be a criminal haven.

So you really know who’s behind the usernames in your favorite group? I’ve yet to see an account that asked me to verify my identity, meaning I could type in any name and age I wish.

Many years ago I played a game called Kingdoms of Middle Earth, which had both alliance and global chats containing people from all over the world. Both Facebook groups and Google Hangouts have a wide variety of people as well. And yes, predators have been known to hang out here.

What kind of personal information are you giving out, and to whom? It’s easy to feel safe in your living room chatting online with a person you’ve chatted with before, but this sense of safety is a farce. That person may be very cool – I still have friends in Europe from playing Kingdoms – but I never truly knew them.

These friends have never asked for my address, birthday, where I go to school, or where & when my parents work. Such personal information can be used for any purpose, including kidnapping.

Criminals will watch their targets and learn their schedules, then set up the crime for success. Burglars will want to be in and out while the family is gone. Traffickers want to isolate their target away from anyone who might help. Personal information can aid them in this endeavor and should never be given out online, in any context.

Lastly, how about those phishing emails?

It’s easy to laugh when I receive an email from a company I don’t do business with, asking me to verify my login credentials. Those from companies I do transact with a bit more difficult to spot! First of all, never click on the link provided in the email! That’s a direct link to the site that’s trying to steal from you.

For example, if I receive an email telling me that my PayPal account has been charged $2000 for a new computer and if I have a problem click on this link or call this number, the first place I go is actual PayPal. I do this by commanding my browser and going to the site directly. Chances are, the transaction isn’t there. I wouldn’t call the number because the first thing they do is ask for your username and password. My PayPal account is in fact linked with my bank, and it would be very costly to give criminals this information.

Often, money that’s directly debited cannot be retrieved. The money is gone, like having your pocket picked. Remember, criminals are trying to steal from you. Never click on those links or call the number in phishing emails! If you can, report them to site security instead.

Internet safety is no small concern these days

From bank accounts to online gaming, there’s someone out there mixed in with the cool people who means us no good. On the Internet, a healthy paranoia can be just that: healthy! What experiences have you had with online trolls or worse? How do you protect yourself and your family? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

About Jayne

Jayne Rising is a gardener and bookworm with a BS from the University of Wisconsin and a Master Gardener certification. She’s been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010 and teaching others how to do it since 2015. She’s involved in a number of local urban agriculture initiatives, working to bring a sustainable and healthy food system back into the mainstream.

Staying Safe from the Hidden Dangers of the Internet
Amy Allen

Amy Allen

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  • Jayne,
    All very good points.
    I’ve been involved in the computer and telecomms industries for about 45 years. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if your wireless router is locked down. Consult the owners manual on how to set up a network password, reset the network ID from the factory setting (typically the manufacturer’s name) to something not traceable to you (like your name or address). Lastly set your wireless router to allow connection to only your devices and to reject all others. Once again consult the user’s manual.
    These things are critical if you are in an apartment or condo or have a modest sized suburban lot. You’d be amazed how far your router’s WiFi signal can go. I can “see” 2 of my neighbors WiFi signals. They are over 300 feet away from my computer.
    True story: A medical resident, living in an apartment, left his wireless router “wide open”. He was out of town when person or persons unknown used his network connection to download kiddie porn. He spent a lot of effort and money for lawyers to get the charges dismissed.

  • Jayne, I was very interested in reading this blog. Years ago, when I was a neophyte computer user, someone tried to steal my email account info for Ebay. One day, I was checking my ebay account and found a charge for something like $4.00. Before I could get into my account (the next day), someone up in New Jersey tried to purchase an $800.00 laptop computer using my info. I called Ebay and stopped the transaction. The person who supposedly sold me the laptop actually had the gall to call and complain about my cancelling the sale. I immediately forwarded the information to the police and cancelled any and all contact with Ebay. The fraudster tried to tap my local bank account for money as well, but I had called my bank and warned them about the attempt and my bank stopped the perpetrator. Since then , I am very careful about who I give information to, as well as what information I give. I never use my local bank account to purchase something online. I always use one of my national credit cards because they offer fraud protection that debit cards do not offer. Additionally, I only use one particular credit card when I purchase something online. I also check my credit card records at least once each week. Since that one time, I have never been “hacked”. Great blog, by the way, I’m forwarding it to my three adult sons. Thanks, and God bless.

  • Good tips! Another one for passwords is, when possible, use pass phrases, that is, passwords with spaces of them. Easier to remember, harder to crack.

    The points made about social media and game hangouts are valid, it’s just another reason why I don’t use much in the way of social media. I do play games online but don’t give out personal information there either except maybe for stuff that really doesn’t matter like what movies I enjoy or what books I read. I’d bet it can be really easy to give out surprisingly personal information if a person is on guard and thinks they are talking to someone friendly.

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