How to protect yourself and others from identity theft, legal wrangles and other crimes when you post online: Internet Scambusters #405

Top 10 Tips to Post Online Safely

If you use the Internet, chances are you post online. Perhaps it’s “tweeting” on Twitter, writing your own or commenting on another blog, or a Facebook page.

But your online posting also comes with a hidden “accessory” — the risk of identity theft or even physical crime.

For this week’s issue, we’ve compiled a Top 10 list of rules and actions you can take to cut the risk of becoming a crime victim from online posting.

And now for the main feature…

Follow These 10 Safety Rules When You Post Online

When you post online, the name of the game is usually to share your ideas and opinions, or even snippets from your personal life.

It should be fun.

Unfortunately, online posting also opens the door for a whole series of potential wrongdoings, from slander and online bullying, to identity theft and crimes that target young people.

Still, these days, most of us want to and do post online. So, here at Scambusters, we’ve put together our 10 Rules to make online posting safer.

  1. First, Golden Rule #1. Never post anything — words, pictures, videos, links, emails, blogs, comments and tweets — that you’re not happy for the whole wide world to view. Because that’s the potential of the Internet. There is no hiding place.No matter how secure or obscure a site is, there is always the risk that it can be hacked, and no matter how little interest you think other people would have in what you said or did, someone you thought you could trust may forward or link to the contents you intended to be private.
  2. Golden Rule #2. This follows directly from Rule #1: Think before you post. This was the catchphrase for the 2010 Safer Internet Day campaign, aimed mainly at young people. But it applies to all of us every day.Some other “think first” tips:* Don’t post things that aren’t true or allegations that you can’t prove — you could land in legal hot water.* Don’t victimize or bully other individuals (anonymously or not). You could cause a personal tragedy and end up in jail.* Don’t fire off a comment based on an instant gut reaction that you might regret later.

    * Don’t copy someone else’s comments or ideas and pass them off as your own.

    * Watch your language!

  3. Names. Be careful how you use your name. Avoid using your full name. Even a nickname could spell trouble — for instance, if it says something suggestive about your character, if it’s a name you already use with others who know your real identity, or if it’s made up from your real name (say, from your initials). First names are best, unless yours is extremely unusual.These days, many people do use their full names for online posting — on social media sites and blogs for example. Just know that in doing so you’re raising the risk of becoming an identity theft victim.
  4. Photos. Bearing in mind Golden Rule #1, don’t post photos you wouldn’t want everyone to see. Full face, high resolution photos may be “snagged” (copied) and used for identity theft. Some people don’t know how easy this is to do with any photo, with just a couple of clicks. Also, as a matter of etiquette, don’t post photos of others without their permission, unless you’re prepared for the consequences if the other person doesn’t think it’s funny.For preference, use photos in which identities are obscured. And, as a general rule, don’t post photos of children online (especially not other people’s children without permission). If you want to share photos of your kids, put them in a private online album, accessible by invitation or password. Or email them directly to your friends.
  5. Addresses. Keep your postal address and your main email address private. That doesn’t guarantee it won’t fall into the wrong hands — postal addresses, for instance, are a matter of public record. Set up and use a “disposable” email address for posting — either one you can delete if it gets into the hands of spammers or a different one for each time you have to give it.By the way, you can easily give away your address accidentally — by posting a photo of yourself outside your home.
  6. Phone number. Why would you ever want to give out your phone number to the rest of the world? OK, crooks might be able to find it in a phone book, but to prevent identify theft or even abusive calls, don’t post online.
  7. Comments. We all have a point of view on pretty much everything we read on the Internet. If you want to post online with a comment, many sites ask for your name and email address which, they say, is not for disclosure. Why take the risk? Use your first name or even a made-up name, and a temporary email address.And apply Golden Rule #2 — think before you post. Usually, you can’t take back what you said. Even deleting your comment doesn’t guarantee it hasn’t already been read and stored somewhere else.
  8. Keep it closed. As with the child-photo guidance given above, consider having a closed group on social networking sites that can only be accessed by invited users.
  9. Read the fine print. Most sites where you can post online comments have a set of rules about how they can use your comments and any personal details you provide about yourself. These rules are usually viewable via a clickable link to “Privacy Policy.” Make a point of reading this before posting. And if there isn’t a privacy policy, beware!
  10. Don’t tell. Don’t give information about your planned movements which would let a burglar know when you’re not at home. See these useful Scambusters issues about posting your whereabouts online and about protecting yourself from burglars.Toyota Recall Scam Uses Bogus Helpline Number (Snippets issue)15 Steps You Can Take To Prevent Home BurglaryAnd don’t give other information that would not only help identify you but also provides useful material to ID theft crooks — like your car registration (or even a photo of you with your identifiable car), Social Security number (duh, of course), your age, and even your marital status.All of this info can be used to build a “picture” of you for identity theft.

By following these 10 rules you can still have fun when you post online, and still get your ideas across without putting yourself or your identity at risk.

That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!