Staying safe – the basics
There is a lot you can do to protect yourself online. Some basic tips include:
- always use strong passwords and use a different password for each site
- use a reliable password manager so you don't have to remember lots of different passwords
- keep your browser (such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari), operating system (Windows, Mac OS, Android), and security software (firewall, anti-spyware, anti-virus protection) up to date
- when you’re shopping, making payments or banking online, make sure the website is genuine and secure
- be very careful about what personal information you give out online or in person
- on social media, keep your privacy settings up to date and don't accept friend or follow requests from people you don't know
- don’t click on links in emails or open attachments if you don’t know the sender or if anything about the email looks strange.
Most of this advice also applies to mobile phones, tablets and other devices.
You could consider taking a course to help you with online safety. Ask about free or low cost courses at your local library or Online Centre.
Protecting your computer
Any computer connected to the internet is at risk. You should install security software and make sure you’re running the latest version of your operating system (for example Windows or Mac OS on PCs and laptops, or Android or iOS on smartphones and tablets). You should receive a notification when updates are available or you can update it manually. If you can, set your device to update itself automatically when updates are released. These updates will include the latest security patches to protect your computer from viruses and hackers.
If you use a wireless router make sure that it’s secure so that only people with a key or password can use it. And if you’re out and about, remember that public wireless hotspots might not be secure.
Scammers are criminals who try to get money or personal information from you. Some of the most common internet scams are:
- phishing emails, which usually claim to be from your bank, HMRC or the police
- social media scams
- fake websites
- relationship scams
- cheap medicine or miracle cures
- shopping scams.
There are many different types of scam but by staying aware you can protect yourself.
If you've been the victim of an online crime, however small, don’t keep quiet. Tell someone you trust and report it to Action Fraud. You are not alone and if you report it you can help to protect others. If a crime is in progress and you need immediate assistance, call the police on 999.
Looking after your money
Banking and shopping online are convenient and usually very safe. Most organisations take your security seriously but there are fraudsters who will try to trick you into revealing your personal details and there are some very convincing fake websites.
If you use online banking, you should:
- sign up to any security software provided by your bank
- only access your account from a device you trust and over a secure Wi-Fi connection
- never log in to your bank via a link in an email – always type the address into your browser
- never give your full login details over the phone or in an email.
For more information about safe banking online, go to Financial Fraud Action UK.
Online shopping is easy and gives you more choice but there are risks. Be careful who you buy from and how you pay for your purchases. Before making a payment online, check that the website is secure:
- there should be a padlock symbol in the browser window frame - not on the page itself
- the web address should begin with https:// – the ‘s’ stands for secure
You can also look for other signs that the online shop is trustworthy. For example, do they have a physical address and telephone number advertised? You can also search for independent reviews.
When you've finished your purchase, always log out of the site. Just closing your browser is not enough to keep your details safe.
Don’t use bank transfers to pay for things online. This means the money goes straight from your account to the seller’s and it’s just like paying by cash. It’s not the same as paying by credit or debit card. There’s no consumer protection and if there’s a problem, you won’t be able to get the money back.
The internet can be a good way to stay in touch with friends and family. You can also meet new people through:
- chat rooms
- support groups and forums
- social networking sites, such as Facebook
- dating websites.
If you use any of these, it’s important to protect your privacy. Be careful about how much information you share about yourself and don’t post anything that could be used to identify you or where you live. When you create a username don’t include any personal information, such as your name or year of birth. Very few internet sites are completely private so check what is shown publicly and adjust the privacy settings to suit you.
If you meet someone online, remember:
- not everyone is who they say they are
- relationships can change – someone you trust now might behave differently in the future
- be wary of anyone who wants to move offline too soon
- trust your instincts
- never send money to someone you’ve met online.
There’s a wealth of medical information on the internet, but you need to make sure you can trust the information you’re reading. Anyone can post content online and it’s important to separate fact from opinion. Use a reliable source, for example the NHS website, and look for the Information Standard for health and care information. If you read something online that leads you to believe you may have a certain condition, talk to your GP before you take any action.
It’s also possible to buy medicines online but be very careful if you’re considering doing this. Speak to your GP or other medical professionals first. If you do decide to buy, make sure the seller is registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council and based in the UK.
You should also check the qualifications of anyone who advertises their services as a therapist or medical practitioner.
The mental health charity Mind has more useful tips on internet safety.