- How to stay safe online
How to stay safe online
The Internet is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of our time, providing us with the opportunity to learn, research, explore and develop - whatever we want, whenever we want to.
If you use the Internet however, you could be at risk of illegal activity or online abuse. Whether it be identity theft or cyber bullying, the Internet is rife with goings on that could pose a threat. In order to minimise your chances of being victimised online, make yourself aware of the possible dangers and follow best practice to avoid them.
Our simple guide to staying safe online is designed to help you and your family enjoy the World Wide Web risk free.
On this page
- Why is online safety important?
- Cyber bullying
- Cyber stalking
- Identity theft
- Online grooming/sexual grooming
Why is online safety important?
In the same way we consider our personal safety as we go about our daily activities, we also need to learn to protect ourselves in an online environment.
While the Internet is an invaluable source of information and support, there are a variety of issues you should be aware of.
Just like in the real world, bad behaviour is present online – only the perpetrators are able to remain anonymous, sheltered behind their computer screens. While their actions may not cause physical harm, the impact can still be distressing, damaging and far-reaching.
The Internet provides an unrivalled level of freedom, which unfortunately can lead some individuals to act in ways they would not in public.
Bullies and fraudsters can target individuals from anywhere in the world from a number of platforms – including social networking websites, chat rooms, shopping/auction sites and emails.
With this in mind, it’s really important to err on the side of caution when surfing the web, and to be particularly vigilant of the following online behaviours we have covered below.
Now that we have multiple ways of accessing the Internet – phones, tablets, computers and smart TVs etc. – cyber bullying is becoming a growing concern. If you or your child frequent chat rooms, social networking websites, or if you use instant messaging or online role playing games, the following information could help you to enjoy your time online without falling victim to vicious online behaviour.
Cyber bullying exists in many different forms, including the following:
Bullies commonly send victims inappropriate images and abusive group or singular emails to cause humiliation.
Instant messaging (IM)
Instant messaging applications are hugely popular among children, young people and business professionals and are designed to allow friends and colleagues to chat online in real time. Unfortunately, some individuals abuse these applications, sending inappropriate attachments and messages. In most cases, IM applications will require you to ‘add’ or ‘approve’ new contacts and use is generally reserved for individuals who already know/are acquainted with one another (it is advisable to not add anyone you don’t know).
Similarly to IM, chat rooms allow individuals to talk in real time, though this time the talking is generally between parties who have not met/do not know one another. Another key difference is that anyone can access chat rooms without providing personal details. This lack of official procedure provides scope for individuals to fabricate the truth, creating completely false identities for themselves, which present an opportunity to send abusive and inappropriate messages that they know are unlikely to be traced back to them.
Social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook provide bullies with an opportunity to embarrass and demean others by either writing a nasty ‘status’, or by making comments or jokes in relation to another person's post.
It is not uncommon for bullies to set-up bogus profiles so that they can assume a false identity. Some bullies will even go as far as to create a page dedicated to bullying someone else, so that a large group can see the bullying.
Online role playing games are extremely popular, and serve as another means for bullies to access and intimidate their victims.
Sometimes bullies manage to obtain log in information that they use to hack into their victim’s email or social networking accounts. From here, they commonly send abusive or inappropriate messages to the victim’s contact list.
What you can do to avoid cyber bullying – online safety tips
If yourself, your child or a friend frequently use the Internet, the following tips will help you minimise the chances of victimisation:
- Under no circumstances should you share any of your personal information over the Internet. This includes your name, address, telephone number or any additional personal information such as where you work or attend school.
- Do not send photographs of yourself to anyone over the Internet unless they are a close friend or family member.
- Never reveal or send any of your passwords online.
- If you would like to meet up with somebody you have met on the Internet, take a friend or family member with you and meet in a public place. At the very least ensure your friends and family know where you are going and what time to expect you home.
- Do not open email attachments that come from unknown sources. They may contain viruses that could damage your computer.
Taking action against cyber bullying
If you are the victim of cyber bullying:
- do not respond to the bully
- keep a record of all correspondence
- Inform the website administrator - most social networks now have a way to report such issues
- talk to a friend, family member or a professional counsellor about your concerns.
Cyber stalking is when the victim receives frequent unwanted obsessive attention from another individual.
Most commonly, it is girls and women who are victimised by this kind of behaviour, though it can happen to anyone.
Whilst obviously circumstances will differ for each individual case, cyber stalking tends to occur between two individuals who have had some form of relationship or prior encounter. For instance, this could be an ex-partner upset about the end of a relationship, though events can be entirely random and carried out by a complete stranger. Cyber stalking can include:
- identity theft
- having your accounts being taken over
- location tracking or spyware on phones
- impersonation of you to stalk others
- being discredited on social networking websites
- receiving direct threats via the Internet through email, IM or social networks
- escalation to physical violence.
Since 2012 stalking has been an official offence in England and Wales and is not something to be taken lightly.
What you can do to protect yourself from cyber stalking – online safety tips
To minimise your chances of being victimised by cyber stalking, you should:
- keep the information about yourself online to a minimum
- change your passwords and log in details on a regular basis
- steer clear of public forums
- avoid sending information over a public WiFi connection unless you are using a secure webpage.
Taking action against cyber stalking
If you are a victim of cyber stalking, ensure that you keep a record of as much evidence as possible and report the stalking to the police. If some of the stalking has occurred online, make sure you report the incident/s to the website administrator.
The more information you share over the Internet through purchasing, file exchanging and networking, the higher the risk of identity theft. While it may be tempting to share or post personal information on the Internet - especially among those who you consider to be friends - you should never do it. Nowadays there are numerous ways in which thieves can access your information without you knowing, so to limit the chances of this happening do not publicise information that could put you at risk.
Personal information you should not share online includes:
- any of your telephone numbers; home, work or mobile
- email address
- home address
- bank information and/or passwords.
The consequences of sharing such information can be enormous, potentially leading to fraud or identity theft that could leave you out of pocket, in danger, or in serious trouble.
Taking action against identity theft - what to do if your identity has been stolen
In order to minimise the impact of identity theft you should:
- Contact your bank immediately to report the incident. They may freeze your account and cancel your cards to prevent further unauthorized use.
- Report any lost or stolen documents to the relevant authorities as soon as possible e.g. passport or driving license.
- If an online account has been compromised, be sure to change your log in details and password. If you use the same password across multiple accounts remember to change these too.
Online grooming/sexual grooming
Grooming is the word used to describe how a person manipulates or attempts to gain the trust of a young person with the intent of sexual harm. Online grooming most commonly occurs in chat rooms and on social networking sites, where predatory adults use this method to contact young people by disguising himself or herself as another young person.
Protecting children from online grooming
If you are concerned that your child may be vulnerable to online grooming, the following advice may be of use:
- Don’t wait for something to happen, discuss the risks of online grooming with your son or daughter and check in with them on a regular basis to ask them about their online experiences.
- Ensure your child knows they should never share any personal information online.
- Encourage your child to set any online profiles to ‘private’ so that only friends and family can view them.
- Look out for unusual signs. Is your child attempting to hide emails or text messages? A change in behaviour may indicate that something else is going on.
Taking action - How can I report online grooming?
You should report any incident of online grooming immediately to the relevant law enforcement agency in your country. In the UK, this falls under the jurisdiction of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
Whilst browsing online, children may deliberately or inadvertently view illegal or inappropriate sexual or violent content – material that may involve adults or children.
In addition, individuals might be encouraged to view these kinds of sites, or may come across them via content shared by others on social networks and sharing websites.
If you do come across any websites on which you witness illegal activity such as violence or drug abuse, you can report the material to the Internet Watch Foundation.
If you are a parent, you can also set-up parental controls in either your computer or browser settings. Bear in mind however, these are not 100% effective and are not a substitute for parental supervision.
Concerned about someone else?
If you are concerned that a friend or family member may be getting into something they shouldn’t, or you are worried they’re the victim of something, you need to encourage them to talk about it.
It’s understandable that they may find it difficult to talk about or feel embarrassed at first. The most important thing however, is to ensure they know you are there to listen.
If you don’t think your friend is ready to talk things through with someone they know, or they would like some advice - encourage them to seek out another mode of help. Visiting any relevant charities or organisations listed throughout this fact-sheet is a great starting point for those looking to enhance their own awareness. Alternatively, if any of the online issues mentioned have started to affect your friend or child’s life, work, health or happiness, it might be time to consider help from a professional counsellor.
How can counselling help?
Counsellors who work with the the issues discussed throughout will aim to provide clients with a greater understanding of the online behaviour they were victim to, or a part of, often employing specialist techniques including transactional analysis and cognitive behavioural therapy.
In addition to helping clients break free from online behaviour, counselling can also be extremely beneficial when it comes to addressing certain side effects of common negative online actions. Cyber stalking for example, often leads to anxiety and depression – two areas in which counselling could be a useful tool.