How to Stay Safe Online: A Guide For Everyone Who Uses The Internet

When you want to make your home secure, you lock the door. When you want to prevent your bike from being stolen, you use a bike lock. When you want to protect your valuable possessions, you keep them in a safe. But what do you do to protect your identity online? We put together a comprehensive internet safety guide full of cybersecurity tips and best practices to help keep you safe online. Looking for information about a specific online safety topic? Use the links below to jump to the relevant section.

Online Safety Sections

This guide covers a variety of cybersecurity topics, including some things most people don’t think about when considering online safety. From tips for creating a strong password to advice about protecting your identity while on vacation, we’re sharing everything the average internet user needs to know to stay safe online.

Person Using Computer.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is simply a general term for technologies, practices and processes used to protect online data from unauthorized access or misuse. Everyday, people play a part in cybersecurity when they follow internet safety tips and cybersecurity best practices. In this piece, we’ll discuss what we mean when we say cybersecurity, and why it’s important. We’ll also share about cybersecurity trends and various tips for maintaining privacy and security on the internet.

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Cybersecurity & Online Safety Buzzwords To Know

When it comes to learning about cybersecurity and internet safety, it can feel like wading through a lot of technical jargon. There are many helpful cybersecurity terms to know, but we’re sharing just a few of the most common online safety buzzwords:

  • Data Breach A data breach is any incident that results in confidential data or personal information being shared, stolen or otherwise transmitted. Scammers and hackers often target business like banks and major retailers in order to access personal financial information, but data breaches can occur anywhere. For more information about responding to data breaches, check out these resources.
  • Malware Malware is any malicious software intended to disable or infect a device’s functionality. Some malware allows a hacker to control a device remotely. Users can avoid malware by using antivirus software and following technology best practices.
  • Back-ups Backing up data means saving a copy of the data on a separate storage device, like an external hard drive. Many people also use cloud storage to keep back-ups online.
  • Cloud Storage The “cloud” is just a way to talk about online networks and storage. Cloud storage is distinct from local storage, which includes your computer’s hard drive. When you save something to the cloud, it is simply stored on one of many remote servers located throughout the world.

Woman looking at computer.

Why is cybersecurity important?

Modern life is fundamentally intertwined with the internet. Nearly every daily task now has opportunity for online integration, and most everyone owns multiple devices, including laptops, phones, tablets, smart watches, smart TVs and more. The more accounts and devices you have online, the greater the potential is for criminals to access your personal information and take advantage of you.

Online safety is important no matter your age or life stage, but there are particular concerns for certain vulnerable groups like children, teenagers and senior citizens.

Internet Safety For Kids

Parents, this section is for you. If you have children of any age, you need a strategy for how to keep your kids safe online. The internet can be a great tool for learning and entertainment, but children should only look at age-appropriate images, videos and information.

Parental controls and content filters are a great place to start. Search engines have “safe search” features for filtering objectionable content, and there are even special search engines for kids. Cell phones also have parental control options and apps to help parents keep kids safe while online. Unfortunately, some hackers and online predators find ways to bypass filters and censorship efforts.

Some content that appears to be designed for children may have hidden disturbing violent or sexual content. When it doubt, be cautious. Watch videos before children are allowed to watch them, and be wary of games with built-in chat functions. Encourage your children to avoid talking to strangers online, and make sure they’re aware of online dangers. There’s no need to be paranoid, just take basic safety precautions, monitor your children’s internet usage and talk to them about how to stay safe online.

Internet Safety For Teens

As kids grow up, they will use the internet without direct supervision. We encourage parents to continue having conversations about cybersecurity and online safety in order to ensure teenagers are creating healthy internet habits. Here are some quick internet safety tips for teens:

  • Limit Technology Use Use an app like Apple’s Screen Time to monitor and restrict phone, tablet and computer use. Similar apps exist for Android phones and other devices.
  • Keep Devices Out of Bedrooms If computers, phones and tablets are allowed only in common areas in the house, it’s easier to monitor usage. You could implement a rule that all family members — including parents — charge their devices in the kitchen or living room overnight. It would benefit you, too! Studies have shown that limiting screen usage before bed increases sleep quality.
  • Talk About the Internet Teenagers should feel comfortable going to their parents or guardians with concerns about things they see online. Try to be open with your kids about the dangers of the internet, and let them know you’re there to help and protect them.
  • Prepare Them For the Future As youngsters, children depend on their parents and guardians to provide protection and advice, but parents should also prepare their children for independence. Talk to children about things like responsible banking, password safety and data protection.

Teenagers and young adults may be more susceptible to certain types of online scams, like student loan forgiveness scams. Protecting kids online starts with teaching foundational internet safety tips at a young age.

How to Protect Seniors Online

Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to online scams and hoaxes. Scammers take advantage of seniors because many seniors have a lifetime’s worth of savings, home equity and other valuable assets. Studies have shown that older Americans are less likely to report fraud because they may not know how to report a scam or they may be ashamed about being the victim of a scam. In order to prevent scams against the elderly, we want to make sure seniors — and their loved ones and caregivers — are aware of common cybersecurity best practices and tips for staying safe online.

Some seniors become victims of elder financial abuse, which occurs when an individual misuses their privileged access to an older person’s financial information. Instead of helping them manage their money and make wise decisions, the financial abuser will perhaps steal money and use it for their own gain.

Some scammers also manipulate seniors with family emergency scams. In a family emergency scam, an imposter chooses a victim and contacts them, claiming to be their grandchild or other loved one. These scammers usually say they’re in trouble — in jail, in the hospital, in a foreign country — and they need money right away. These imposters may be very convincing, using personal family information to fool their victims.

If you’re interested in learning more about online scams, jump down to the scams section of this article.

Woman looking at computer screen.

Cybersecurity 101: 7 Basic Internet Safety Tips

When it comes to internet safety, it’s best to start with the basics. We have come up with 7 tips to guide you as you evaluate your online habits and make small changes to ensure your privacy and security on the internet.

1. Protect Your Personal Information With Strong Passwords

  • When creating a new password, pay attention to strong password requirements.
  • Change your passwords often.
  • Don’t share your passwords with other people.
  • Don’t use common, easily guessable passwords.
  • Make sure passwords and password hints are stored securely. Record passwords in an encrypted file on your computer, or select another secure password storage method.

2. Keep Personal Information Private

  • When you sign up for something online, read the terms and conditions.
  • Never enter your financial information on a website that isn’t secure (look for the padlock or "https://" prefix in the browser address bar).
  • If you suspect your credit card information is being misused online, turn off your card using the SNB mobile banking app.

It’s important to protect your personal information offline, too, because once sensitive information is stolen it can be proliferated online. Remember tips like shielding the PIN pad when you make purchases and learning how to spot a credit card skimmer at gas pumps. Using a chip debit card is another way to protect your financial information. The more sophisticated chip technology is just one reason why the chip card is more secure than the traditional magnetic strip debit card.

3. Make Sure Your Devices Are Secure

  • Utilize passwords and other security options like fingerprint readers and face scanning technology. One report stated that 30% of smartphone users didn’t use passwords, screen locks or other security features to lock their phones.
  • Secure all devices, including computers, phones, tablets and devices like smartwatches and smart TVs.

4. Pay Attention to Software Updates

  • Promptly install software updates, especially when they include important security upgrades.
  • Set up automatic updates on your devices so you never miss one!

5. Be Careful About Wifi

  • Do not trust public wifi security. Avoid connecting to unsecured public wifi networks.
  • Make sure your own wifi networks are protected with strong passwords.
  • Remember tip #1 and change your wifi password frequently.

6. Set Up Two-Factor Authentication

  • Enable two-factor authentication in order to prevent hackers from accessing your personal accounts and information.
  • Add this extra layer of security to keep your accounts safe even if someone knows your password.

7. Back Up Your Personal Data

  • Back up important personal information on external hard drives.
  • Create new back-ups regularly.

Couple looking at computer screen.

How to Avoid Identity Theft Online: 4 Internet Safety Tips

A little bit of vigilance goes a long way when it comes to protecting your identity online. Adding an extra layer of security can be as simple as keeping an eye on your accounts, looking out for suspicious activity and shredding sensitive documents. Some data breaches are out of our control, like when retailers or other companies get hacked. We have to trust certain entities to hand personal data, but we encourage people to do all they can to protect their private information.

Complete privacy is difficult in the digital age, so users must be cautious and wary. Take these precautions to make sure identity thieves don’t steal your personal information.

1. Monitor Your Credit Reports

Keeping an eye on your credit is an important way to make sure no one is trying to mess with your personal financial information. If you want to see who is making inquiries about you credit, you can request a free credit report from any of the three national credit reporting companies:

We recommend reviewing your credit reports occasionally in order to make sure there is no suspicious activity and everything appears as expected.

If you want an extra layer of protection, a credit freeze is an effective line of defense against fraud and identity theft. As of September 2018, there is no cost, so learn how to freeze your credit for free.

2. Be On the Lookout For Unusual Statements Or Bills

Pay attention to statements, receipts and bills. If you’re signed up for electronic bills or statements, it’s easy for them to get lost in your email inbox. Regularly looking at statements will help you notice if there is suspicious activity happening in any of your accounts. If you become a target for fraud, you’ll want to catch it as soon as possible and contact your bank for help.

3. Shred Documents Containing Financial Or Personal Information

Don’t throw sensitive documents in the trash! Use a paper shredder or shredding service to dispose of anything with your full name, phone number, address, social security number, bank account information or other private personal details. Check out this helpful shredding guide, and consider shredding documents such as:

  • ATM Receipts
  • Bank and Credit Card Statements
  • Paid Bills and Invoices
  • Pay Stubs
  • Credit Offers

4. Use Caution While Traveling

You’re more vulnerable to certain types of fraud and identity theft while traveling. If you want to protect your identity online while traveling, take extra precautions. Let your bank know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone and ask the post office to hold your mail. If any bills are due while you’re gone, see if you can plan payments before you leave.

While you’re on your trip, observe extra safety measures to protect your personal items and information.

  • If you need to pay a bill online while you’re away, make sure you’re connected to a secure wifi network.
  • Ask your hotel if your room has a safe, and use the safe to protect valuables and extra cash when you’re not in your room.
  • Exercise caution when using your debit card to pay local vendors and retailers; when in doubt, pay with cash.
  • Carry copies of important travel documents, and make sure to store them separately from the original versions. It’s also a good idea to have a digital copy of your passport stored online, just in case.

Is Online Banking Safe? Tips for How to Bank Safely Online

Online banking and mobile banking apps can be a safe and convenient way to manage your finances, but it’s important to follow cybersecurity best practices in order to protect your personal financial information. With online bank accounts, it’s especially important to choose a strong password. Hackers will go to great lengths to gain access to your personal financial information, so your bank accounts need to be protected and secured.

Choosing a reputable bank is also crucial. Look for an FDIC-insured bank. FDIC insurance is an industry standard for banking legitimacy. Read more tips for how to bank safely online:

  • Don’t check your bank account balance or pay bills using public wifi networks. Not all public networks are secure.
  • Don’t look at private financial information on public computers. If you need to use a computer at a library or other public space, make sure you log off all accounts and clear your browsing history.
  • If you see any suspicious charges on your debit or credit card, utilize mobile banking card controls to turn off your card, and contact your bank immediately.
  • Make sure to only enter your financial information on legitimate apps and websites. Cybercriminals will sometimes create copycat websites and apps to trick people into entering their personal information on an unsecured site. Check the URL of the website you’re on before entering your account information.
  • Update apps frequently because they often contain important security upgrades. Outdated apps are more hackable and more susceptible to data breaches.

Young man with glasses looking at computer.

Protect Your Identity Online: 4 Types of Online Scams to Avoid

Sometimes, online criminals use manipulative methods to gain access to a person’s private information. Instead of guessing your password or attempting to steal your account information, they use sneaky techniques like trying to get emotionally close to you or impersonating one of your friends on social media. The scammer may end up soliciting money from you, accessing your personal data or installing malware on your devices. Here are a few common online scams to avoid:

1. Online Dating Scams

Online romance scammers will manipulate their victims by forming an intimate personal connection and then using the relationship to try to gain access to personal and financial information. All ages are susceptible to online dating scams, but studies have shown that senior citizens are particularly vulnerable. Help protect seniors online by educating them about the dangers of online romance scammers.

2. Social Media Scams

Online scammers are always coming up with new ways to manipulate people on the internet. Be on the lookout for social media scams like fake profiles, catfishing, gossip clickbait, job offer scams and fake online scams. A good rule of thumb is to always check the validity of a website before allowing it to access your personal information. Never click on suspicious links, and don’t fill out online forms unless the website is legitimate and secure.

3. Text Message Scams

Text message scams can be a combination of various other online scams, including phishing links, gossip clickbait and other misleading and malicious forms of fraud. Remember that banks, government entities and other legitimate companies will never ask for personal or financial information in a text message, so never send your private information in an unsecure text message thread. Only give personal information via legitimate and secure website portals.

4. Email Phishing Scams

Phishing is a form of cyber attack that entices users into clicking on a link that will compromise private data. Email phishing scams typically include enticing offers for gift cards or other free items. Always assume that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. These types of online scams are especially prevalent during the holiday season, so be alert and don’t let holiday scams ruin your holidays!

Email phishing scams are constantly changing and evolving as scammers try to come up with new ways to take advantage of people. Stay vigilant, don’t click on suspicious links and check the FTC scam alerts list to learn about new scams.

Learn More About Privacy and Security On the Internet

In this modern world, internet safety is a lifelong concern. As technology changes and evolves, learning how to avoid identity theft online will be an ongoing process. Security National Bank is here to help. Our goal is to keep you and your money safe! We’re your resource for information about the latest cybersecurity trends and tips. Reach out to us if you have any questions about how to stay safe online, and sign up for our newsletter if you want new financial security and internet safety tips delivered straight to your email inbox.