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Internet & Email Safety
People often have questions about how safe it is to use the internet and email. The following are some tips that will help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls and problems.
Always be cautious about giving out personal information. Your phone number, address and email address can be used to send you things you don’t want or need, or you can end up on a junk mail list.
- Carefully read privacy policies of web sites if you give them personal information
- Don't feel too guilty about making up information if you have to fill out a form online, unless you really want the company to be able to contact you. For example, use a fake phone number - 509-555-0000 - if a web page requires one, but try not to use someone's real phone number
- Using your own computer at home, you can control the privacy settings on your browser to make more or less information about your web browsing available to various websites
- If a website forces you to register before using their site, you can try using a fake login from www.BugMeNot.com
Shopping online is like shopping from an unknown catalog; you should do some homework before giving out financial information.
- Look for reputable dealers. Have you heard of them? Check out the Better Business Bureau to see if they have complaints against them
- Find real addresses and contact information. Can you contact them by means other than the Internet if there are problems?
- Watch for shipping and handling charges. Make sure you know what these are before you agree to pay
- Find return policies and customer service contact information
- Look for a secure connection before giving financial information -
- Find out more from the National Consumers League's Internet shopping fraud page
- RetailMeNot.com contains special offers and internet coupons for various stores, without having to enter personal information
Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends
Since the internet is mostly unregulated, there are a lot of scams, hoaxes, and misinformation out there.
- Email is a common breeding ground for this type of activity, since people often pass on questionable messages or take spam seriously
- Before you act on a email message such as this, you should check out the following websites:
Social Media Safety
Social media, such as blogs or Facebook, are very popular ways to communicate on the internet, but social media users need to be aware of the potential dangers or embarrassments that can occur while using these services. You should protect your privacy and identity when using these services.
- Read the privacy policies of social media sites so you know how available your information will be to the general public. For example, Facebook has its own page about using the service safely
- The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center has a factsheet on social media and email account takeovers and how to blog safely
- The Connect Safely site for teens and parents gives safety advice on cyberbullying, sexting, and other social media issues
- The Mesa, AZ, Police Department has an informative page on using Twitter safely, along with other internet and general safety brochures
Viruses are computer programs, and so cannot do anything until they are activated. This means the virus program must run automatically, or, more likely, dupe the victim into starting them up.
- Opening an infected email attachment is one of the most common ways to get a virus. Attachments are files such as Word documents or pictures that are opened with a program separate from your email program. Be very careful with email attachments; delete them if you do not know the sender or do not get a clear message from the sender that a specific attachment was sent
- Other ways to get a virus are downloading software or sharing files from unknown sources. Protect yourself by being very cautious about downloading files or programs from other people’s computers or from the internet
- You can add virus protection software to your computer, but remember that virus protection software does not always catch the very latest virus. You must keep it updated for it to be effective
- For more information read About.com's Email Virus Safety page
- A computer worm is another harmful computer program that exploits weaknesses in your computer's operating software (such as Windows), so be sure to keep your computer updated with the latest fixes
Spam is unwanted, junk email.
- You can end up on a spammer’s email list by submitting your email to web sites or by having your email listed on a web site
- Since there are plenty of free email addresses available, set up a junk email account that you can give to web sites requiring you to provide an email address. Give out your "real" email address only to people you trust
- Spammers can guess your email address if you use a common name for your username. Add numbers to your name or use something unusual when signing up for a popular email service
- Spammers can get email addresses through chain letters, where people forward a message multiple times. Don't forward a message to multiple people unless it is really important; if you must, use Bcc (blind courtesy copy) to keep email addresses hidden
- It is not a good idea to reply to a spam message's "remove me from your list" link. Replying confirms that you have a working email address, and they will probably just send you more spam. However, if the junk mail is from a reputable company, they will usually follow your instructions to remove your email
- Most web email has options for dealing with spam, usually through a junk or spam folder. If you think an email is from a spammer, you can usually tell your email provider that it is junk, so that next time you won't receive it in your inbox. Check your junk mail folder occasionally to make sure none of your wanted mail has been put there
- Here are a couple of websites that may help:
Phishing is where scammers set up a fake website that look very similar to a real company's website in order to get credit card or account numbers.
- People are often sent to these websites by fake emails pretending to be from a legitimate company, usually asking for account information. Do not click on the link in the email message if it looks suspicious
- If you are suspicious about an email message from a company you know, type the company’s web address into your browser yourself, do a search engine search to find the company’s real web site, or even give them a call. Sometimes companies are aware of these hoaxes and ask you to report them. Look at Bank of America's Fraud page for an example
- For more information, read this Microsoft article or Wikipedia article on phishing or take the Phishing Quiz to see if you can outsmart scammers
Books on Internet and Email Safety