How to Know What to Trust Online
Finding fun games, learning cool new things, and talking to your friends is what the internet is for. But just like in real life, you have to be smart and safe. It might seem silly to think about safety when you’re on the web alone in your room, but it’s important to make sure you’re trusting the right sites and people.
Unfortunately, some bad people on the internet may try to scam you out of money or your personal identity, which can cause a lot of problems. You might also pick up viruses or malware, which will load your computer with advertisements or misleading links.
(This article is directed at kids, but parents can pick up some knowledge too).
Ask your parents what’s safe
If you and your parents discuss ahead of time which sites and activities are okay, you’ll run into far fewer problems. For an easy way to stay on the right sites, ask your parents to make a folder with links to all your favorite websites saved inside. That way, you won’t accidentally go somewhere else.
This applies when you’re at school too. Just because your parents approve of something doesn’t mean your teachers will. Schools are usually a little more watchful of websites and may even have blockers for specific sites or searches.
Social media and apps
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites can be a great way to connect with friends and people with similar interests, but it’s also where a lot of trolls set up camp. Keep your profile private and your circle small.
When it comes to apps, you can usually spot a bad one by how it’s advertised and how often ads pop up. Sometimes you can make in-app purchases and upgrade to remove ads, but you should get these approved by your parents.
Don’t talk to strangers
You’ve probably heard this before, but the easiest way to stay safe online is by only friending, following, and talking with people you know in real life. Although you can stay mostly anonymous in chat rooms, it’s important to remember that others can, too, and a stranger can easily pretend to be someone they’re not. With this in mind, it’s worth it to approach every chat with caution.
Sometimes a stranger will seem friendly, but then they’ll ask for something in return. Don’t click any links they send, and don’t give out any of your personal information. What counts as personal information? Things like your name, family, address, school, or anything else that can help them identify you.
If you do plan to visit stranger-filled sites, make sure to check with your parents and ask them if anything seems fishy.
Don’t reply to people with weird usernames
A friendly “Hi” with a heart emoji might seem harmless, but when it comes from a username like puppycutie88398, it’s probably a sign that it’s spam (messages meant to scam people). You can tell a username is fishy because it has random numbers, usually combined with two common words or names.
Strange usernames and strangely-phrased messages are a good indicator of spam. These spammers could be trying to sell you something (and perhaps steal your money by selling a fake product), steal and misuse your personal information, or build a friendship initially order to scam you later.
Either way, sometimes simply responding gives these people (or sometimes robots) a sign that they might be able to hack into your information, and that could lead to more requests. Ignore these messages altogether and avoid future problems.
Set up privacy settings
When you take the time to make sure your online profiles are private, strangers are less likely to bug you. Sometimes it might not even seem like a big deal to post a picture online of you and your friends, but an online predator might catch on to what schools or parks you hang out at.
Parental controls are less about taking away your freedom and more about protecting you. If something that’s blocked seems fine to you, ask your parents if they approve of it and they can remove the block.
Turn off location settings
One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re not being tracked, or that a post won’t reveal where you are, is to turn off location settings. Most of the time, apps and social media will ask for permission to share this info first, but it’s always good to double-check your settings.
- Popular apps are usually safer by nature, but with more people comes more potential for problems. Even if an app itself is safe, the users may not be, so use caution no matter which app you’re using.
- Any time you have to put in personal information beyond a username or email for an account, get a parent involved. You should avoid putting in your address, payment information, or any other personal info on your own.
- Make sure to turn on safe search filters for Google and other search engines, especially when looking for images. Some questionable content may come up just because it has a similar name to what you’re searching for, so safe search filters can help weed out things you don’t want to see.