7 risky behaviors you should stop right now
Revised Jan. 23, 2021
It’s easy for busy people to put off dealing with online privacy and device security. But some of your unwitting online behaviors might be putting you and your family’s connections and data at risk.
Here are seven risky online habits to put away today, along with tips on better ones that can help keep you and your family safer when online.
1. Accepting friend requests from strangers
You’re scrolling through Facebook while sipping your morning coffee and up pops a new friend request. You don’t know the person but they’re “friends” with three of your friends, so you figure they must be OK. You click “accept.” And that’s exactly what scammers hope you’ll do.
Scammers on social media platforms may take advantage of your desire to be nice. Once they’re in, they can go catfishing, mine personal data from your posts or profile, or post a malicious link that could trick you or your friends into clicking and installing malware on your devices.
Tip: Keep your social media connections to people you know in real life. If you do get one of those friend-of-a-friend requests, either ignore it or contact your actual friend to ask about the person first.
2. Complying with odd requests in messages
You get an email or text that looks like it’s from your bank, your favorite store, or even the federal government. The message might offer you a coupon, alert you to “suspicious activity” on an account or claim you’re eligible for a big refund if you’ll just confirm some personal information or click a link. If you do, you could fall victim to a phishing scam.
Scammers will send messages that look like they’re from a trusted source in order to get money or obtain private information from you, such as passwords, account numbers, or your Social Security number. Last year, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center got more than 450,000 complaints about phishing schemes linked to over $3.5 billion in losses to businesses and individuals.
Tip: When you get an email, text or social media message asking you to take an action, stop and think. If the request seems unusual, take a few minutes to verify that it’s authentic by contacting the sender through a different channel.
3. Broadcasting your location to criminals
You hopped on Instagram to post photos of the Paris café where you ate croissants and sipped café au lait, and now you’re checking in at the Louvre on Facebook. The problem: Thieves can use social media to track potential victims.
If previous photos you’ve taken at home contain metadata showing the exact location where they were snapped, that could lead burglars right to your front door.
Tip: Share every last detail about your dream vacation in France — after you get back home. To protect your privacy further, avoid posting photos that contain metadata showing the location where the photo was taken. Start by disabling location metadata on photos on your camera or smartphone.
4. Oversharing about your kids on social media
Your child isn’t old enough to read, so there’s no harm in sharing that funny but embarrassing potty-training story, right? Wrong. Keep in mind that your social media posts essentially create a “digital dossier” on your kids, as one mother and children’s rights lawyer writes. And the information and photos you share about your kids could eventually fall into the hands of bullies, data miners, identity thieves, and even predators.
Tip: Start thinking about your kids’ online privacy from day one. Check your privacy settings on social media. Also avoid posting potentially embarrassing information, unclothed photos, and personally identifying information, such as full name or announcing their exact date of birth, which could put your children at risk for identity theft. Some parents use a generic nickname or fake initials when posting about a child.
Our homes are filled with gadgets that are supposed to make life easier and more secure, from pet cams to smart speakers and smart doorbells. The problem: Some of these devices could actually be making you less secure by spying on you and your family.
Tip: Buy smart devices only from reputable manufacturers, and make sure they meet minimum security standards. Devices should have encryption and receive regular security updates from their developers. And manufacturers should require strong passwords and two-factor authentication for remote access. They should also offer information about privacy that is specific to the device. And finally, they should have a system for reporting and dealing with bugs and other security issues.
6. Leaving your accounts wide open to hackers
You know it’s essential to use strong unique passwords for online security and privacy. If you use your dog’s name or your kid’s birthday, you might be giving criminals and hackers the keys to your accounts and the private information contained within. That could put you at risk for account takeovers, ID theft, and having your email address used to scam your colleagues, friends, and family.
But it’s hard to remember strong passwords, so consider putting “install password manager” on your to-do list and don’t keep putting it off for another day.
Tip: Get a password manager to help you keep track of all of your strong, unique passwords. Many password managers also include a random generator feature to help you create unique passwords of at least 12 characters that include letters, numbers, and symbols.
7. Putting loads of free apps on your phone.
Apps can be nearly irresistible, especially when they’re free. The lure is powerful since apps can allow you to do anything from chat with your friends to find a date to meditate, get your horoscope, track your budget, and play games. But sketchy apps can infect your device with malware or compromise your privacy by gathering and selling your data. This can be especially worrisome with health apps.
Tip: Only download apps from official app stores, and only get apps you really want and will use. If you have apps you’re not using, delete them from your device. And before you get a new app, look at what permissions it requests. For example, some apps will ask to access your camera, learn your location, make calls, view your contacts, and more. If an app is requesting permissions it doesn’t obviously need to function, you may want to think twice about installing it on your smartphone.
Anyone can fall victim to identity theft or a scam. But taking the time to learn the risks and tweak your online behavior just a bit can greatly reduce your risk and keep you and your family safer online.
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