How can you protect yourself and your family from trouble online? It’s a whole lot easier when you follow these simple precautions and tips.

In General

  1. Maintain anonymity. Try to remain as anonymous as possible online.
  2. Trust your gut. If it feels weird, it’s weird.
  3. Ask yourself: Does this pass the “mom” test? If you wouldn’t want your mother to see it, don’t post it online.
  4. Beware of cyberbullying. A: Don’t do it. B: If you’re being bullied, report it immediately.
  5. Be aware of techniques for redirecting website users to “cloned” replica sites without their knowledge, also known as “pharming.” Watch for odd error messages, unexpected page layout or content or other strange site behavior.
  6. Create a new username and password for different sites.
  7. Leave it! If you suspect a website is not what it claims, leave it immediately. Do not click or run any content or software.
  8. Do not connect to “free Wi-Fi” access points. It might be the “evil twin” of a legitimate access point, set up to intercept your logins and online transactions.
  9. Do not use cracked/pirated software. These are great avenues for introducing malware into or exploiting weaknesses in a system. This also applies to P2P (peer-to-peer) illegally distributed audio and video files.

Know About Online Scams and What to Watch For

Remember, if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. The most popular scamming methods are:

  1. Phishing. This has become a catchall term for any electronic criminal fraud scheme that tries to capture personal identifying information (PII), such as names, passwords, credit card information and ATM pins. Usually this takes the form of a hacker-designed email or instant message that looks and feels like an official communication from a bank, Internet service provider or social website that tricks the recipient to respond with personal information.
  2. Pharming. This occurs when hackers exploit DNS server software to redirect traffic from a legitimate website to a bogus one to capture personal data. For example, they’ll route a bank’s web traffic to a site controlled by hackers. Think of this as a postal mail redirection.
  3. Vishing. This is a malicious combination of phishing and Voice-over IP or Internet phone service. It amounts to hackers making phone calls via the Internet that look to Caller ID systems like official business lines from, say, a bank, credit card company or insurance provider. Often it’s an automated call that asks the recipient to call back, at which point con artists ask for PII.
  4. Smishing. This combines SMS text messaging with phishing, amounting to hackers disguised as official institutions using cell phones to phish.

Here are some tips to separate the legit from the illegal:

  1. Check the source for misspelled content. Online, make sure it’s the company’s actual URL address in your web browser.
  2. Watch for redirection. You may click your tried-and-true bookmark to go to your bank’s website, but if your PC or the bank site is compromised, it could point you to a hacker lookalike site. If you see that you’re being redirected to a site that doesn’t look right, or you notice the URL link contains characters other than normal, disconnect.
  3. Google the malicious email, SMS or caller number. You might not be the only one who was targeted. Google the number or email address to see if there’s a larger scam and possible means to report it.
  4. Just say no. No company will ask for your date of birth, government-issued identification numbers or ATM password in an email, website or text message. They also won’t ask questions about your personal life, such as pet or family members’ names, which hackers will do to guess your password.

Social Networking “No-nos”

  1. Don’t announce plans—even going to work or to the mall—on Facebook or elsewhere.
  2. Don’t post personal information, including your birth date, physical address or other details that help identity thieves open accounts in your name.
  3. Don’t post any questionable photos. Remember, potential employers could see them, and photos on the Internet never die.
  4. Don’t accept friend requests from people you’ve never met. “Cute” doesn’t mean “legit.”
  5. Don’t Click on a link or take an online quiz or survey. Do you really need to know what flavor ice cream you’d be? Many of these surveys and quizzes are scams that download malware onto your computer.
  6. Don’t use the same password (or an obvious one) for everything.

Shopping Online More Safely

  1. Shop on secure sites. Only use websites with “https” in the URL and a yellow padlock in the browser bar. Double-click on the lock to see a digital certificate of the website. Review these certificates on unfamiliar sites.
  2. Enter correct URLs. Hackers often buy misspelled domains to trick people into entering personal information.
  3. Never enter personal information or password to email and bank accounts as part of the buying process with online retailers.
  4. Leave suspicious websites immediately. Don’t click on any of the site’s buttons, run content or download software.
  5. Read retailer reviews before ordering. compares prices and users’ comments on retail websites. Google Product Search, and monitor retailers, site performance, possible issues and deals.
  6. Use a credit card, not a debit card. Your debit card is cash. If you buy from a fake website, it’s gone … and it’s hard to get back.
  7. Use a virtual credit card number, instead. These are single-use (also called disposable, secure or virtual) credit card numbers. A single-use credit card number is basically an alias for your actual credit card number offered by most of the major credit card issuers. When shopping online, you use this number instead of your real account number. Purchases that you make with your temporary number show up on your statement like all of your other transactions.
  8. Read website return and privacy policies before making purchases. If there’s any doubt about fairness, find another site.
  9. Never pay for anything upfront online and use a service such as PayPal or a credit card that has buyer protection. Do not link your PayPal to your checking or any other account that can be immediately withdrawn from.

File Sharing and Chat Rooms

You may feel close to all 8,689 members of your chat room or file-sharing site but make no mistake: They’re total strangers and most likely they don’t have your best interests in mind.

Be wary of:

  1. Downloading unknown files. They may contain malware.
  2. Peer-to-peer file sharing for music and other items. It may expose your computer to all sorts of nastiness and malware. If it’s the family computer and/or networked, you could expose the whole family to trouble.
  3. Making personal files or information accessible. You have no idea what people may do with them.
  4. Something for nothing. Offers of free money or goods are usually scams.
  5. Oversharing. Especially if someone asks lots of personal questions but doesn’t share back.