Protect Yourself Online and Be Safe Offline

tech talk

We Angelenos value our privacy but when it comes to socializing online we often forget about our privacy and make everything public, from address, age, and home phone numbers, to listing family members and offering details about our children. This leaves the virtual front door open for everybody, without asking who it is, without looking through the peep-hole to check if that person is welcome, and without considering who has been invited inside.

This can be dangerous for many reasons, especially because it makes it possible for someone to connect a bit of credit information with a bit of personal information, enabling them to assemble just enough details to assume our online personality and our credit identity, helping themselves to our life, literally and without much effort at all.

Here are a few important tips to remember when you sign up to any social media site, or when you open an email account or purchase a domain name (website):

  • When buying a domain name, privatize your account. This will cost you about $10-$20 a year but it will keep your personal info (the domain owners info) hidden. (As Neighborhood Councils, be sure to register your domain to an NC office address and feel free to keep this public instead of privatising.)
  • When choosing a password for an account, use numbers, caps and symbols. Those passwords are more difficult to crack than ones that use only lower case letters.
  • When you are asked to fill out forms when signing up with a website, only fill out that which is required. If your address and phone number or age and zip is not required, don’t fill it out!
  • If you are required to fill out your age on any website, put down a different birth year than your own. Best is to put yourself down as 99 years old. The age is used for statistical purposes for the company that asks you to sign up, so there is no benefit to you to give anybody your correct age. Those who need to know your age, know it already. The older you make yourself online, the less likely you will be spammed by blind date requests or other spam sites.
  • DON’T give out your Social Security EVER! No social networking site should ask you for it. If you come across a site that does ask you, leave that site and report it to the police.
  • DON’T give out the city you live in. Let’s say you live in Silver Lake or Valley Village. If you need to state the city that you live in, put down Los Angeles.
  • Keep your zip code to yourself and give out a zip code that is far from you home.
  • DON’T publish your home phone anywhere. Land lines are trackable!
  • DON’T list your family members and/or children on your social media site (keep the family member list visible to only family members on facebook.) You don’t want predators to make friends with your family to get close to you or your family members!
  • If you have a cell phone with a GPS tracking system, turn the GPS off on your camera or other apps and only turn on for apps that need to use it. You don’t want your location to show up accidentally on a mapping site when you tweet or post a photo from your phone.
  • DON’T write your phone number or home address on people’s facebook walls or for public view, when arranging a meeting. Direct message the person you are meeting with!
  • DON’T announce that you are on vacation! Be on vacation, tweet and post from your vacation, but don’t publicly announce it that you are gone and that your house is empty.
  • DON’T take photos of famous landmarks around your house. No street names and no house numbers should be posted.
  • When emailing your friends, protect them and their email address by BCC-ing everybody, unless of course the email is used as a discussion between those emailed.
  • DON’T give out phone numbers or email addresses without checking with the owner of these first.
  • AVOID spamming your friends by attaching only pdf documents in emails (not Word) or using Google Docs (Word can carry viruses that can attack your computer or your address book). With Google docs, you will never have to download a document on your hard drive ever again. You can open the document in a browser and save it on Google. Simple and safe.
  • Keep your profile private to non-friends.
  • Don’t post banks that you use or doctors you visit or post office that you frequent. If you use foursquare (http://foursquare.com) and want to earn your badges, keep these personal venues private and hidden from your followers.

(These rules don’t apply when you need to fill out credit card info for payment of a product online. But be sure that you buy from a trusted website before you give out your credit card info.)

People are creatures of habit and habits are easily trackable. Look around and you’ll see the same folks doing the same things at the same places at the same time. Their behavior and your awareness confirms the predictability of our lives. The routine behavior of our lives leaves us vulnerable to those who are a threat to our security. Take a minute to think about your routine and any signs or signals that communicate vulnerability. Use your online behavior to mix up the schedule so that it is not so evident when you are jogging, when you are having a coffee, when you are at the bank. Use your computer to schedule blog posts, email blasts, and other activity so that it is not clear when you are “in” and when you are “out.” Nobody should know when you are alone and the door should never be left open, in real life or online.

We live in a very public age. Wherever we go, people will take videos, photos, audio recordings, and write about anything and anybody they like. So you might appear online without your knowledge, without your consent. Public events are, after all, public. Protect yourself and your family members and represent yourself in a way that you won’t regret later.

Be safe and be smart and see you online.

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