Have you ever received a suspicious friend request on Facebook or a strange message or connection request on LinkedIn or Instagram?
If you have, you’re not alone.
While the internet benefits our lives in a lot of ways, it’s also provided new avenues for people who want to harass others online, and often, women are on the receiving end.
A study found that women are more than twice as likely as men to be sexually harassed online, and they often don’t know what to do about it. 26% of women aged 18-24 said they have been stalked online and 25% had been sexually harassed.
Social Media: The double-edged Sword
While social media is great for connecting with old school friends, networking, and following the accounts of people we admire, it has its dark side. It gives people the chance to track you down, look at your pictures, find out what you’re up to, see personal information, and send you messages.
There are options to block people and control what others see on your profiles, but many people don’t have their privacy and security settings quite tight enough. Countless security experts have commented on how the average person has enough information on their social media profiles to enable someone to steal their identity-and that’s just for starters.
How can you protect yourself online?
Protect your passwords
I know, we all have about a million passwords to remember, but don’t write your passwords down anywhere or leave yourself logged into your social media accounts or emails on a computer or other device that other people have access to. Make sure you choose a secure password that can’t be easily guessed – don’t make your hometown or date of birth your password if someone could easily find that information on your profile.
Be conscious of the information you share
Think about what you post online and the information you share on your profiles. Could someone see where you live? Where you work? Your mobile number? Thanks to GPS location tagging and ‘checking in’ on Facebook, people can even see where you are physically at!
Tighten up your privacy settings so that nobody but your friends can see your information, and turn off your location when posting pictures.
Block anyone you don’t want to connect with
Sometimes, you might get a friend request or a message from someone you don’t know, and you might feel weird declining the request or ignoring their attempts to connect with you – don’t!
You get to decide who you connect with or not, and you can always block anyone that makes repeated attempts to make contact. Remember, you can block someone for any reason. Listen to your gut. If it tells you that something’s not right, pay attention to it.
Document online harassment
If someone is harassing you online, including sending obscene images, or explicit or threatening messages, don’t delete anything, even though it can be distressing. Take screenshots and block the person.
Contact the Police
If you are being stalked, harassed, or threatened online, your first port of call should be the Police. Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, someone can face prosecution in the criminal courts for harassing you, or you can take civil action against them, where the harassment has caused considerable distress. A court will often issue an injunction, forbidding someone from contacting you or being within a certain distance of you.
Other sources of advice and support
If you’re being stalked, harassed, or threatened online, you can also contact:
Stalking and harassing behaviour, whether in person or online is not something that you just have to ‘put up with’ because you’re a woman.
Everyone has the right to privacy and to feel safe. Use your common sense, trust your instincts, and seek help and advice if something doesn’t feel right.
A Note on Cybercrime
Almost all of us get an email, text message, or even a phone call from time to time from a person or people pretending to be a legitimate organisation. They might say they’re from your bank, a charity, or another company, and they’ll usually try to con you into giving them information like passwords and bank details. If they get it, they can use it to steal your money and/or your identity.
Another type of phishing email that’s common is criminals posing as organisations who ask people for money and say they only accept payment in the form of iTunes vouchers or similar. Criminals posing as HMRC conned victims out of millions of pounds last year by asking them to purchase the vouchers in large amounts to make a payment for tax they owed. They ask the victim to read out the serial number on the back, then they can then make purchases at their expense or make money by selling them on.
Phishing emails: what to look out for
Many phishing emails get spotted by email spam filters, and you can easily identify them as being fake. But just incase they make it to your inbox, here’s what to look out for:
They offer you something that’s too good to be true
The sender might try to tell you that you’ve won a prize or that you’ve won some foreign lottery (that you never entered). A common trick is to say you’ve won a lottery in another country but you have to send a ‘fee’ to claim your prize. The thing to remember here is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
They’ll tell you they’re closing/suspending your account
Criminals know that many people would be alarmed at the thought that their bank or PayPal account was being suspended, and they often ask that you confirm or update your personal details to prevent this from happening. Legitimate organisations will NEVER ask for account details or passwords via email. If you get this type of email, report it.
It contains strange links or attachments
A phishing email will almost always ask you to click on a link or attachment. Never click on anything that looks suspect as it could be a virus or a link taking you to a connection that’s not secure, so your device can be hacked into, and your personal, banking and credit card details can be stolen. All secure website addresses will start with ‘https’, and there’ll be a little padlock icon – the ‘s’ stands for secure. Whenever you’re entering personal details of any kind online, always check that it’s a secure site.
You don’t recognise the sender
Trust your gut here. If something seems suspicious, or someone is asking for personal details or money, delete the email. You can report it to your email provider as a phishing scam.
Staying safe online is becoming increasingly difficult but we can all protect our privacy and security by being aware and taking a few simple steps.