This is a guest post courtesy of Edgewood resident Aaron Stansbury.
What to look out for when it comes to social media and online safety
Here are some thoughts directed to helping those realize some things about social media. This goes beyond the simple “don’t give out personal information to strangers on the internet” you might tell your kids. In this article I will share some things I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune in some cases!) of bearing witness to, if not experiencing first hand.
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
A common way for the wolves of the ‘net to get into the flock of peace-loving internet goers is by creating false accounts. They can either be done by posing as a fake friend, borrowing their identity, or hashing together an “original” account using stolen pictures and falsified information that may even look legit at a glance. Why would they do this? What could they possibly hope to gain by falsifying information so they could otherwise appear friendly enough (or attractive enough) for you to talk to them? Well let’s list the potentials, and some other bits of information to keep in mind when faced with them:
Keep Your Personal Details To Yourself
They may want to gain personal information from you (duh!). Why? To make new illegitimate accounts to trick your friends? So they could potentially open accounts with financial ties in your name for evil purposes? Perhaps even to pose as you to create issues between you and your peers? Who knows? Either way, unless you have solid evidence that the person you’re dealing with is legit, you probably shouldn’t even consider messaging them back, ESPECIALLY if they ask for things like: phone numbers, emails, addresses, and other information that really should be on a need-to-know basis with people you trust.
Avoid Phishing Websites
They may send you a website link, asking for you to look at it for some reason, either to simply look, or to perform some sort of action on it, like putting in information of some kind. Sometimes, they may have a sad story to tell, or offer some sort of compensation in an attempt to persuade you to click it. Often, these messages, often sent via IM (Instant Messaging), can actually be caught on for being evidence of evil intentions if you’ve the eye for it. Especially if you message back the ‘person’, you may notice they have a fast reply time for those 5 paragraphs they apparently just typed in 20 seconds… *cough cough*. Anyways, the important part, if all else fails, is realizing that the sites they send may often be ‘bad’ sites; containing viruses, offensive content, or other nasty things that could make your great day plummet down a well. So if it’s the first time a random person is messaging you, and they right off the bat ask you to do something for them, whatever the reason or compensation may be, you might as well ignore it. Its spam.
There are many other dangers that goes into lingering in the world of the Internet, and these two points are broad but cover many of them. Either way, on any and all social mediums, as well as simple communication mediums such as Skype, there are and always will be wolves waiting to take your information for nothing.
What do I do if approached by a Suspicious Person?
Well, here are a few tips to avoiding getting caught in the traps and scams of a Suspicious Person:
What if they messaged me first?
Be wary about replying if you did not initiate the conversation first. It may sound rather harsh, but if you didn’t message them first, and they sent the message to your personal account, it may be an indicator the person is looking to get something from you. This of course this doesn’t necessarily cover your response when it comes to handling a business account, but it’s still something to keep in mind. If a legitimate person has a legitimate business inquiry, they are more likely to contact you through the business using provided business information, not go after you directly.
What if they’re anonymous?
If unsure, check their account and the information on said account. No, this doesn’t make you a creep or anything. If you’re honestly hesitant about this new person but do not want to push them away yet, check out their account. Try to see when it was made, its interactions with other accounts, or anything that looks bad or like spam on their feeds/wall. If the account looks like a bad apple, you have done a good thing in doing some recon; avoid them! You have a right to know who you are interacting with, and if doing this keeps you from being dragged into some kind of trouble, go for it. Don’t feel bad about protecting yourself. It’s the internet. Anyone can hide behind a computer monitor.
If you cannot find any incriminating information on their account, or in other cases, NO INFORMATION, on their account, they either, A) Made the account very recently, or B) specifically are trying to keep information to themselves. If you are unsure, ask about certain specific, verifiable things.
Better safe than sorry, right?
Beware Spam Bots!
Earlier it was mentioned about the person having a ‘fast reply time’. This takes a bit of effort and being able to gauge how fast other people type – not the most efficient way of catching a trap, but viable when you’re unsure. This is a bit of a tricky one, and some of these troublemakers have caught on, so this entire section may be useless to you. Either way, for the less-patient troubler, it works. Perhaps they send you a message inviting a response from you. You respond. Perhaps 5-10 seconds right after they respond with one or more paragraphs, maybe ending after the fourth paragraph. Seems quick compared to you or other people you know, right? Either they have a ridiculously high words-per-minute (typing speed), or they copy and pasted that. If you send some dummy responses (false information, or even in some cases, just a response in general, like “wat”), you can gauge from the speed of their responses, and the nature of their responses, if they are even a person. Yep, some of these people use automated accounts to interact with you. Bots, they are called. Designed for maximum spam for maximum yield, either to get you to visit a site or for you to give information.
Some Final Thoughts
The things listed here aren’t necessarily things that will happen to you every day on the internet, but they are things that happen from hundreds to thousands of people every day. You never know when a wolf may come knocking on your virtual door. But that’s okay, because a good portion of the people on the internet actually aren’t bad. Heck, you could have friends on the internet, sort of like pen-pals but without the weeks of waiting. And you could perhaps trade information with them as well, maybe one day even meet up. The internet isn’t a horrible place, but it is still one where its travelers must watch their own backs. And that’s done by arming yourself with solid knowledge, and knowing what to look for. Just as our world as its own dangers, with creatures and diseases, so does the internet, with the wolves and its viruses.
Here is a list of quick reads that are relevant to becoming more educated on personal virtual security:
How Do You Stay Safe?
Can you offer some safety tips for others to follow? Please share your advice in the comments below!