It’s never been easier or more fun to keep in touch with family and friends online. Social media has made it possible to instantly communicate with anyone, anywhere and at any time.
We all love catching up with family and old school friends, sharing your thoughts, ideas and photos, whilst also looking at what others are getting up to.
However, whilst social media has opened up a world of possibilities, it’s important to remain safe and secure. As well as family and friends, it’s always worth remembering some people who use your favourite platforms may be up to no good.
To help keep you safe online, we’ve shared seven simple things you can do to protect your identity and keep your personal information secure.
Choose the perfect passwords
According to edition.cnn.com, some of the most popular passwords are ‘password’, ‘qwerty’ and ‘123456’.
Not surprisingly, these offer little to no protection against the most determined wrongdoers. Nor do single word passwords, such as family names and pet names. Instead, try to aim for a password which uses a combination of letters, numbers and characters in a mix of upper and lower case.
Try to use a phrase instead of a random mix of text, as this is easier to remember. It could be a line from a favourite film, song or children’s nursery rhyme – the key is to keep it simple and memorable. To incorporate numbers and characters, try swapping an ‘a’ for ‘@’ and an ‘i’ for a ‘1’. For example, the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ could become ‘Tw1nkleTw1nkleL1ttleSt@r’.
Of course it goes without saying that you should never share your passwords with anyone or write them down anywhere.
Tip: You should make your passwords easy to remember, but almost impossible for somebody to guess.
Make sure you know who can see what you post
Social media is a great way to keep your friends and family in the loop about your whereabouts and what you’ve been up to, as well as what you might have planned – but it can also be a haven for those with less than noble intentions.
Other people can learn a lot from what you post on social media, so you should always use your social media platform’s security settings to make sure you know who can see what you’ve decided to post.
Most social media platforms let you choose your own privacy settings, so it’s worth ensuring you enable these safeguards and keep them enabled. For example, if you only want approved family and friends to be able to see your photos and status on Facebook, choose 'Settings' and go to the 'Privacy' option on the left-hand side of the page.
You can change your settings at any time if your existing account is currently set as 'Public.'
Similarly, you can choose to keep your tweets public or protect them by going into the ‘Tweet Privacy’ section and ticking the box next to ‘Protect my Tweets’, while Instagram’s default public setting can be changed by going to ‘Settings’ and selecting ‘Private Account’.
And remember – once a social media post is out there, it’s out there. What you post online, stays online.
Tip: Think twice before posting something you might later come to regret.
Think about when you post to social media
We all like to keep in touch with family and friends whilst on holiday to let them know we’ve arrived safely and are having a great time. Social media’s a fantastic way of letting people know you’re away, but it’s also a way of advertising the fact your house is empty and you won’t be home for a few days.
Before you consider posting any of your holiday snaps, lock your profile using privacy settings, consider removing people you don’t know well from your social media platforms, turn off your location settings and remove personal details from your personal pages which could reveal your address.
And beware, you could even invalidate a claim. Insurers can invoke a clause that appears in the majority of policies that states customers must take ‘reasonable care’ in keeping their property safe, meaning your holiday posts could invalidate your home insurance.
Tip: Wait until you get home before you share photos of all those beautiful sunsets and delicious meals.
Check your friends requests
It can be exciting to receive a friend request from someone you might only know in passing and add them to your growing network of social connections. And with sites regularly adding new features which makes it even easier to make new connections, adding to your ‘friends’ tally has never been so straightforward.
But before you click accept, it’s worth asking yourself what you know about them. Have you met them in person, have you ever spoken with them, do you even know them?
Research by brandwatch.com has found the average Facebook user has 338 ‘friends’, but how many of these could you turn to if you needed help with something?
Only send and accept friend requests from people you’ve met and spoken with in the real world.
Tip: As a rule of thumb – if you don’t know them, don’t accept their request.
If something feels wrong, it probably is
If you receive an unusual message from a family member or friend that seems strange or doesn’t seem like something they’d post, it’s a good idea to follow your instincts. Some ‘friends’ can actually be fake accounts set up to find out details about you or bombard your timeline with spam.
Unfortunately it’s easy for somebody to pretend to be someone or something they’re not on social media, meaning it can be used to extract personal information which they can use at a later date.
You might also receive messages which look as though they’ve been sent by reputable companies, but are in fact a way of enticing you to reveal personal information, such as passwords or bank account details.
If you ever receive a message asking you for cash or to disclose personal information, always stop and ask yourself a few questions before clicking on the post or link – why would a real family member or friend be asking me this? Do I know this company? Does their message look strange? Does it contain spelling mistakes or does the layout look a bit strange? If something ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is.
Tip: Take the time to make sure you know who you’re dealing with, it makes sense to do your research outside of the social media site to find out if what you’re reading is legitimate.
Regularly check privacy settings
We know from Ofcom.org that around 70% of 12 to 15-year olds are estimated to use some form of social media and that they’re sharing more information about themselves than ever before.
There’s currently no common set of child safety rules or laws that social media sites have to follow, which can make it difficult to know which sites are safe for them to use.
To help keep your children safe online, you should do everything you can to learn more about the sites they’re using and how they work. Consider establishing an age limit at which they can start using social media under your guidance and talking to them about the dangers and consequences of sharing information.
Setting a limit on the time your child spends on social media each week, allowing them to use only one device in a common area of your home will help ensure they’re less able to access any content you don’t want them to.
Tip: Make a note to regularly check privacy settings on each of your children’s accounts and keep them informed of online safety.
Always make sure you log off correctly
Whether it’s with a cup of coffee in your favourite café, whiling away the hours on a long journey or just passing time waiting at the bus stop, many of us like to use our phones to have a quick catch up with what’s happening on our favourite social media sites.
Wherever you log in to your accounts, it’s always safer to log out once you finish your online session, especially if you’re using a public computer or making the most of a public WiFi space.
If someone else gains access to one of your accounts, they might be able to get hold of your personal data which could cause problems down the line.
Tip: If you’re using public access, make sure you know who it’s provided by and that it’s a reputable source.
These are just a few suggestions for how you can protect yourself and your data when online, but they’re a good start to helping you safely make the most of all the wonderful things social media has to offer.
Looking for more ways to make sure you’re protected? We’ve put together some essential tips to make sure you’re being security savvy whilst managing your savings online.