Internet Safety Tips

Internet Safety Tips

“Never meet strangers from the Internet.” You hear that every day. You have probably even lectured your kids about it. Pretty sound advice, isn’t it? But what about all the great things you’d miss if you followed that rule? You’d never find that vacation rental you have always dreamed about, or your soul mate, or the plumber who shows up on time, or great deals on collectibles. You’d never sell that old clunker or your house, or nab that job you wanted. There are many opportunities to connect, buy, sell, search and get help online. And, the truth is, if you are smart, careful and bring some sumo-wrestling friends along with you, you can be safe and still meet in real life people that you had first met online.

But the risks are just as real. Murders, rapes, kidnapping and assaults, fraud, larceny, stalking — while they may not happen as often as you think they do, they happen too often. And in most cases, they are 100 percent preventable if you take some time to think and do it right.

The volunteers at WiredSafety and cyberlawyer Parry Aftab have been helping everyone stay safer online since 1995. They volunteer from their homes, work and school to help victims of cyberabuse and cybercrime, educate consumers and young people, and advise policymakers and the industry on safer surfing and digital use. Here are some quick and easy “safe shopping,” “safe selling” and “safer encounters” tips to follow:

Do your homework — Use trusted sites to do some comparison shopping, and when you find what you want, Google the company, website, person, address, e-mail, contact information and product. (Bing, Yahoo and Facebook them too!) Scams, crooks, registered sex offenders and ex-spouses may pop up. It’s a simple step that can save you money, heartbreak and harm. Ask for references, if you can. And check them out by phone. (It’s harder to fake six different people by phone than by e-mail.)

Phone a friend — Run the deal or encounter by someone you know and trust. Sound too good to be true? (Then it probably isn’t true!) Does something feel wrong about it? Trust your gut and your friend’s advice. And, while you’re at it, take the friend with you when you go. And have at least one friend with you when showing your things to potential buyers or renters. Two may be “company,” but three (or more) is safer.

Do it in public — You are much safer when others are around. Getting cornered alone in your or their basement when you are selling or buying that antique dresser isn’t fun. So move what you are selling into the driveway, onto your lawn or porch, or into the lobby or garage of your building. The extra work is worth it! Ask them to do the same if they are selling, or hand them your digital camera to take a pic for you on the spot (to confirm there is really a dresser). Blame it on a bad knee, fear of the dark, or asthma, if you want to avoid confrontation. Or post your friend at the door and you go alone.

Keep a record — Print everything out — the ad, the e-mail chain, pictures, directions, names and addresses. Save voicemails and texts. Ask if the item is new, used or refurbished. Print out comparison-shopping info too. Many online “deals” are more expensive than current sales at a local store you like and trust. Let others know where you are (even if you bring a friend) or who is expected to arrive. Use your cell phone to snap a picture of them, their car or license plate. It’s a valuable record if the item turns out to be stolen, counterfeit or broken, or their check bounces (don’t take checks!) or they start harassing you.

Report what you find — If someone is helpful, delivered what they promised, was easy to work with and deserves praise, share that with others in real life and online. You may be able to “rate” the buyer or seller online. If they aren’t, share that too. And if you suspect fraud or criminal activity, or encountered problems, report it. Do not pass “Go” or collect $200, just call your local police department (or theirs if they are not in your town), tell them what you know and what you suspect, and show them the pics you took with your cell phone. With your help, the person you report may be off the streets and not able to hurt others not as savvy as you are.

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Copyright © 2010 by Parry Aftab. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author