Surfing online a fun pastime and a great way to connect with friends. From watching YouTube videos to playing games to sharing your favourite pics and articles with friends via social media – you can do it all! However, with access to information comes a new set of dangers. People and programmes aren’t always what they seem. There are phishers, spammers, scammers, and criminals lurking around every corner, hacking information and catfishing their way into our online lives. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the internet without any scary encounters:

Beware of the catfish

No, we’re not talking literally about that weird-looking fish in dirty dams, these are a different kind of Barbels. A catfish is someone who poses as someone else online, usually by using fake photos and personal information – most popularly their age. For example, an older person might pose as a teenager to earn the trust of a younger crowd.

The only way to fend off catfish is to stick to the rule of not talking to strangers. Never talk to someone online that you haven’t met face-to-face (in the real world) also try to do some research on them first. Google is your friend here. If you can’t find any other profiles, look at things like other followers – if they have very little followers or very random persons from other countries and no friends in common – chances are they are fake.

What to do next…

If you catch a catfish, be sure to report this slippery sneaky fish to the relevant website administrators. If they ask you for photos of yourself or start making you feel uncomfortable in any way, alert your parents immediately and stop talking to the person. The most important rule to remember – and this one is super important – NEVER meet up with someone without your parents/guardian’s consent.

Passwords are key

Contrary to belief, passwords can be hacked much easier than we think. Use longer passwords with capital letters and special characters to ensure it is strong and harder to hack.

Never, ever (EVER) use your birthday or something that will be easy to think of.

Also, prepare for the possibility that your friends are not always as friendly as you might think. Never give a password to someone else – it’s just not worth the embarrassment. It can easily be used for cyberbullying. Keep checking online articles with tips on making your passwords stronger. This is your chance to be creative!

The internet is forever

Everything posted on the internet will ALWAYS be on the internet. Even if you delete it a few minutes after posting, chances are someone out there would have screenshotted it before you even thought of deleting it. It happens in a matter of seconds. It will always be on some server out there somewhere so before posting, ask yourself, “what would my parents, teachers and friends say when seeing this?” If the answer is negative for any of those three, you should probably not post it at all.

Don’t leave your computer open on a page

The worst mistake people make is to leave a computer or phone unattended, open on a password protected page, eg. Facebook. That is just asking for trouble, especially if you’re already a victim of cyberbullying. It only takes a few seconds for someone to write an embarrassing status on your Facebook leaving you red in the face. Another no-no is to leave your computer unattended when working in a public area, especially when you’re on an open public network. If you go to coffee shops or internet cafés, you might want to check out our article on How to Stay Safe(r) on Public Wifi.

Don’t visit chatrooms if your parents/guardians haven’t given you permission

Most online chatrooms aren’t appropriate for children. If you are under the age of 18, ask your parent or guardian if it is okay to sign-up before chatting on the site. Safest is to rather not use these chatrooms, keeping in mind tip number one, catfish are everywhere!

Do not download any photos or programmes without consent

Stay out of trouble by not clicking that “download now” button. If your parents didn’t give you consent, then it’s probably not a good idea. Whenever downloading something, even if you think it’s a safe site, it always bears the risk of carrying computer viruses. These viruses can corrupt your PC/laptop and wipe important data. Much like a human virus, it can spread then to your other devices when you use USB’s or attach the download to an email, etc. Keep that computer vaccinated by NOT downloading without consent!

Don’t share personal information

Don’t share any information online; such as your address, ID number or anything that might be stolen or put you in danger. Not everyone can keep a secret and keep your data safe so watch out who you give info to.

Cyberbullying is so last year

Cyberbullying has become a bit lame. Nobody likes a bully in real life, so rather don’t do it online either.

If your friends or someone else you know circulate images or messages on social media or on your messaging apps with nudity or something mean about someone else (or yourself), tell your parents and/or teachers immediately. Cyberbullying is a serious thing and can really harm someone mentally. Don’t do something without that person’s consent.

It might be a lot of information to take in but the golden rule is to always check with your parents/guardian if you’re unsure about something. Always remember, not everyone has good, honest intentions. Be vigilant and careful of everyone and everything.

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