ConnectABILITY

The Do’s and Don’ts of Staying Safe on the Internet

The internet is a very useful tool to help us find information, music, games, meet people and talk to friends. There are many tools available that can equalize communication for a person with a disability. These include speech readers, intelligent word programs that will provide words and phases to choose from once you begin to type, voice mail and free VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telephone services such as Skype. When communicating over the internet you can not see what the person looks like and therefore there are no pre-conceived opinions about you based on visible disabilities or visual attributes.

However, there are dangers that you need to be aware of

We feel safe on the internet and believe that the websites we go to and what we post on the sites or in e-mail is private, but it is not. Everything we type or post is for public viewing and anyone can see it. E-mails addressed to one person can be forwarded to others. We do not know who is going to see them and this could include nice people as well as those who want to harm us or do something illegal.

One of the best ways to stay safe is to maintain an ongoing open dialogue about what you are doing on the internet with someone you trust. This could be a parent, other family member, a staff, a friend or a volunteer. Someone else may be able to point out safety concerns that you did not think of or were not aware of. Talk about where you are going on the internet – the websites, the chat rooms, the game sites that you are going to, the people you are chatting with and the types of conversations you are having.

It is good also to talk about how much time you spend on the computer. Online chats and online gaming can be very addictive. Without realizing it, you may be spending so much time online that it is causing you great harm personally and /or financially. It is important to get away from the virtual world and make real connections with friends, family and real people. Set daily limits on the amount of time you are spending on the computer, for example one hour per day.

Inviting this trusted person to be a friend on your facebook page or other social media sites where you are a member will give this person a better chance to catch things that could put you in danger.

It is a good idea to have the computer in a public place such as a family room, living room or kitchen rather than in a private place such as your bedroom. When the computer is in view of others, there is a better chance that when you are unaware of danger it will be noticed by others and brought to your attention.

Here are some important tips that you should follow to make sure that you are as safe as possible.

Protect your real identity.

The information you provide online can be used by others to identify where you live, what you look like, when you will be away from your home, places and times where you are likely to be found, personal identity information like health card numbers and banking information.

  • Never give out your real name, age, address, phone number or any other information (including passwords) to a stranger online.
  • Only give out personal information such as Social Insurance Numbers or banking information on a reputable secure site. Legitimate companies such as banks will not send you emails and ask you to reply with personal information. If you are a customer of the bank, they already have your information and will get in touch with you by phone or land mail. If you are not sure whether the request is real, find the bank’s phone number in the phone book (or on their website) and give them a call. Explain what you received and ask them whether they sent the email.
  • Don’t send a photo of yourself online.
  • Do not use a webcam if you have never physically met the person. If you have met the person, then you both know what each other looks like.
  • On chats and other social media use a nickname that does not identify you. Do not use something like “CindyfromOttawa”. Instead use something neutral like “musicfan”.
  • Never share your account password.
  • Never save your password on a public computer. If you do so, then other people will have access to your information and your accounts.

Remember that everything that you read online may not be true.

Someone you meet online is not a “friend”. You really do not know anything about this person. They may have lied about who they are. Much of what you read is someone’s opinion (whether it is in a chat, a blog or an email). It is not fact. People can write whatever they want and there is no way to check that what they are saying is really true.

If you have physically met someone in person before talking to the person online, there is an element of safety, although there still could be danger. However, if you are meeting the person online first, then you need to be very cautious about what you say and agree to do.

  • Some people will pretend to be someone else so that they can trick you into doing something that may cause you harm.
  • If you think that you may have been tricked or cheated, don’t keep it secret. Talk to someone you trust about it. They will be able to help you.
  • If an offer seems “too good to be true” it likely is. Ask someone you trust about it.
  • It is always good to get a second opinion about any offer online before you go ahead. They may think of something that you have overlooked.
  • Do not go to meet someone you have met online that you know very little about.
  • If you do decide to meet someone you have become friends with online, meet in a public place, make sure that you do not go alone and let other people know where you are going.

Never post anything that would cause you embarrassment or shame.

As a basic rule, you should not put anything onto websites or the internet that you would not show or say to anyone in a public place like a store, a bus or a coffee shop.

  • The internet is very public and once you have posted a comment, photo or video, it cannot be erased or taken back. As an example, anything that you put on your Facebook page is owned by Facebook and stays on Facebook even if you remove it.
  • Websites make the decision on what to do with the information and this could include sharing or selling the information with other companies or websites as a means to make money.
  • You cannot control how many times it is copied and it may be used against you. An embarrassing picture could show up in public many years after you posted it on the internet.

Always be courteous online.

The same rules of relating to others that apply in real life apply online. As a basic rule, you should treat people, whether online or offline, as you yourself would like to be treated by others.

  • Don’t send e-mails that may hurt others or are against the law.
  • Don’t be rude or use abusive language in chats or e-mails.
  • Don’t send emails when you are angry. Rather then send the email right away, save it as a draft and re-read it the next day before you send it. Once you have calmed down and thought about it, you will often change the email prior to sending it or not send it at all.

Protect Your Computer System.

There are many people who spend a lot of time and effort to create programs that allow them to get control over your computer or to damage your computer without you knowing it. If they can get control over your computer, they can use it to do illegal and or damaging things and we do not have any visible connection back to them. They can also spy on you and be able to tell which websites you are going to and what you are doing there. Often, this information is used to be able to make money by selling it to other companies.

  • Shut down your computer when it is not in use, especially in public places.
  • Keep your antivirus and antispyware programs, other software and operating systems updated.

Tip for Caregiver / Staff

If you are concerned about the safety of a family member or individual that you support as a result of what information they are providing online, arrange to have access to their information. For example, sign up for Facebook and have yourself be added as a “friend” to their profile. You would be able to view what information they are providing and discuss any safety concerns with them.

Useful websites

There are a number of useful sites that provide more details on protecting yourself and staying safe on the internet. Here are a few:

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