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Staying safe online

Many people use the internet to keep in touch with friends, make new friends and shop online. To make sure you stay safe be careful about the information you give out.

Using the internet

There are loads of sites around that allow you to talk to other people on the web. Chat rooms give you the chance to have a conversation with other people and get instant replies, while online message boards let you post up questions or comments and ask other users to give their opinion in their own time.

It can be a great way to chat to other people who share your interests, but you should always be careful not to pass on any of your personal details. You should always keep in mind that internet users can pretend to be anyone they like. They can lie about their age, their interests and whether they're male or female. No matter how long you've been chatting, remember that they're still strangers; you don't really know them at all.

Chat room safety

As with social networking sites you can never be certain that people in chat rooms actually are who they say they are. Its best to never give out any personal information like your address or your phone number. Don't let people know your full name as they may be able to look you up in a telephone directory and get your home phone number.

If you want to meet up with someone you have been chatting to online be aware that they might have been lying about their age or interests, and may not be who you expect them to be. For this reason meeting friends you've made online can be very dangerous and its normally a bad idea.  

However if you are determined to meet an online friend in real life here are some tips:

  • Make sure you take a good friend (ideally an adult) along with you.
  • Tell your parents or another adult who you are going to meet and where you are going.
  • Arrange a time to call or text your parents or another adult after you've met your online friend to let them know you are safe.
  • Only arrange to meet online friends in public places during the day. If they invite you to their or someone else's house or to a place that you are unfamiliar with always say no.

Personal details

Some websites will ask you to fill out a registration form before you can use them. While this is normal practice, it's a good idea to find out what the website will do with your personal details. All companies that collect information have to tell their customers how personal information will be used. Make sure you check the website's terms and conditions if you want to know.

Protect yourself and your computer against online threats

Many people now shop in the internet as its easy, convenient and relatively safe as long as you use your common sense. Make sure that if you do order goods over the internet, the company that you're buying from uses a secure shopping server. You'll know if it is a secure site if a padlock icon appears at the bottom of your browser window, or the web address begins with 'https:'.

If it's a company that you've never heard of before, search their site for a contact telephone number. If they're a legitimate company, they won't mind you giving them a quick call to ask them a few questions.

Never give out your bank details in an email. Legitimate banks and companies will never email you asking for your details as it is not a secure method of contact. Replying to such emails could make you a victim of identity fraud or theft. If you are unsure about any contact you receive from a bank do not respond and go to your local branch and ask them about it in person.

Social Networking Sites

Millions of people all over the world use social networking sites like Facebook, Bebo, MySpace. Whilst these sites are a great way to stay in touch with old friends and make new ones, when joining such a site you need to be aware of the risks involved and how to protect yourself.