It seems like the internet has taken precedence over face to face interaction. Why would you want to go to Julie’s house when you can stay home and talk to her and everyone else in your class on Facebook? Why bother going to the arcade when you can play any game there and more on Pogo? The worldwide web seems to have everything you could ever want, and more to be discovered. But there’s more lurking behind your computer screen than 140 word messages and pages to like. With every site you visit there are hidden dangers waiting for you, here’s some tips to avoid the traps.
- Never give out your address or phone number. Ever. Period. This means not adding it to your profile either, whether it’s set to private or not. There are predators all over the internet hunting for young people everyday and they’ll go to any length to get to you. I know that sounds creepy and scary, and believe me it is – and it’s real. Your information is only as safe as the server it’s hosted on, and after recent hacking events not many are safe. It wouldn’t take much for a predator to break into your account, collect your information, and start calling or worse, stalking you. If you feel the need to list location information, choose a major city near you, not where you are. Your friends know what school you go to, what city you live in, and probably your cell phone number – they don’t need to find it online.
- Chat rooms are full of “kids” interested in knowing more about you. The reason kids is in quotes is because at least half of these are potential predators just trying to get your information. They will go to any length to make you feel comfortable talking to them – telling you about a deceased friend/relative/dog, offering to share pictures, asking to chat offline etc.. Treat all of these as potential threats. Only visit chat rooms that are highly moderated and never give out personal information. Don’t accept a video chat from anyone you don’t know, especially if it’s one way.
- When choosing a screen name/user name choose one that doesn’t reveal information about you. Many people add a zip code at the end of their user names, this is another way for a potential predator to find you and/or claim to know you. Choose a name that is broad, that your friends will recognize, and that wont reveal your true identity to strangers.
- Don’t flirt or offer to meet anyone online, for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The obvious being encouraging someone to track you down, hack your account, and cause harm to you or your family. The not so obvious being ulterior motives such as scamming you out of money or using/exploiting you. Even if you have no intention of actually meeting someone it’s still a dangerous idea. If you offer to meet someone or flirt with them it’s probable they are not who they claim to be and will enrage when they realize you led them on.
- Never give out financial information. How many pop ups have you seen saying “Congratulations! Your zip code has been selected to win $5,000!” or something similar? How many have you clicked on? They’re very tempting and seem so appealing that you feel you just have to take the leap and sign up for the 5 other offers to earn your “guaranteed prize.” One common rule in life is if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. The same goes for the internet. Just because it sounds good, it does not mean it’s legit. Many of these are set up to gather your/your parents banking information to steal from your account. If you read the fine print, you’ll often find it’s a scam and the only thing you’ve won is a year of grounding and an empty bank account.
- Remember that once you post something on Twitter, Facebook, or a chat room it’s there for the world to see. If you don’t want certain people to know something personal, don’t post it. The benefit of talking to people online is that you have more time to think before you type, use that time to decide if what you’re about to type is going to do more harm than good.