by Nancy Travers,LCSW

Online safety and privacy is a concern today. For women, it’s even more important to be proactive. Every individual has the responsibility to protect themselves. Many companies already have instituted safety measures, but some don’t. The best way to protect yourself is by not using the services of companies who don’t employ adequate safety measures. In addition, by being cautious and taking simple precautions, you can protect yourself. The easiest way is to develop different online profiles for each type of site you visit: personal, professional, spiritual, gaming, specific interests or other types of sites.

By deciding on the level of information you’re willing to share on the Internet ahead of time, you can protect yourself. You may want your name and e-mail address in various directories, but beware what additional information may be shared openly.

Depending on your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you may be asked to fill out an online profile. Only information you want public should be entered. Check your profile and delete anything you’d rather not be public. Optional information should be left out.

Be aware of companies’ privacy policies; read them carefully. Avoid vendors without privacy policies. Know your ISP’s privacy policy and their policy on handling their subscribers e-mail addresses. Switch providers if they sell those and you’re not satisfied with that policy. Be careful about online promotions, freebies and contests. If you have to give information away, you’re not getting something for nothing.

Choose online user IDs cautiously. Whenever your name is displayed, other users can check the details are associated with that name.

If your privacy is compromised or you experience online stalking or harassment, keep a record of each instance including all online postings (in chat rooms and newsgroups) and all e-mail. Don’t discard anything.

If you do become a casualty of a scammer, fraud, abuser or other type of criminal, don’t add to it by blaming yourself. The only guilty party is the one doing the abuse. Don’t permit the abuser to humiliate you into silence. Speak out and get help.

Here are some additional ways to protect yourself:

  1. Ensure your computer’s security. Updated anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are imperative, as is using them regularly.
  2. Choose safe, non aggressive user names. Don’t allow your username to give away your personal information. Don’t choose a name that can identify your age or location. Avoid names that may generate unwanted attention (flirtatious or provocative).
  3. Choose unique passwords for every site you visit.
    • Passwords don’t have to be difficult to remember. But longer is better and be sure to use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Make sure they are not related to your personal information, sequential characters, or repeated characters.
    • Try a twist on a phrase using shortcuts or acronyms, as in text speech.
    • Use an easy pattern on your keyboard (such as QWERTY) with additional numbers and symbols for good measure.
  4. Review, with your family and friends, how you will safeguard each other’s online information. Agree to use the “BCC” line when sending group emails.
  5. Be choosy about the information you share online, and with whom.
    • Only interact with family and friends, when possible. Using public chat rooms or having a public blog increases the risk.
    • Think twice before you post any information that can identify you on a public site. This information includes your name, location, gender, home address and e-mail address.
  6. Be aware of e-mail risks.
    • Avoid opening attachments or clicking links in e-mail. Even e-mail from a person you know can contain a virus or spam.
    • Don’t respond to e-mail requesting personal information. Account numbers and passwords will never be requested by a trustworthy company.
    • Never click on links in email; Go to the site through a search engine.
    • Avoid forwarding spam. Often, these cute or funny messages are designed to collect e-mail addresses of everyone who receives it.
  7. Never meet someone alone for the first time. Always meet in a public place. Women may feel uncomfortable imposing safety measures. They may think it will offend someone, but people on the open up will understand. It’s the criminals who will make a big deal of it.

Above all, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Your safety is more important than someone else’s feelings.

Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 1600 Dove Street, Suite 260, Newport Beach, CA 92660.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.