SafetyNet Step 5:
Never reveal personal information online
Your children should never give out a home address, telephone
number, school name, photos or full name in e-mail, chat or newsgroups. If your ISP allows
you to create your own account name, choose something fun, but avoid using your full name.
And if you decide to let your children use instant messaging (IM), have them create
screen names completely distinct from their real names. A more difficult question is what
to do about personal Web sites. While it is fun to have a family Web site, it is risky to
include pictures of your children, your home address, phone number, e-mail addresses and
what school your children attend ("Johnny got straight As this quarter at
Johnson Junior High"). If you construct a family Web site, be wise about the
information you include. This should not be a proxy for the annual Christmas newsletter.
If a partially anonymous Web site does not suit you, create a Web page and send it to
family and friends via e-mail.
Parents often worry about personal information their children may
send out without realizing that they themselves can inadvertently put their children in
jeopardy. Information sent to seemingly innocent Internet sites can end up in the wrong
hands. Never send personal information to a newsgroup or chat room where it automatically
becomes public knowledge. For example, by posting a question to an online parenting group
you could provide a stalker with enough information to cause serious grief. In one such
case a stalker harassed a mother online, broadcast pornographic e-mail concerning her and
her son, called her daughter on the telephone, attempted to ruin her credit and threatened
to harm her.
Also watch out for Web sites that have children fill out
extensive questionnaires. These questions are sometimes incorporated into games or
contests and may not even look like personal questions. While this information may be used
for harassment of a commercial nature rather than something more directly harmful, it
still will result in annoying junk mail. For Web sites that require answering personal
questions before entering the site, create a fictitious persona to go along with a public
e-mail address (if your ISP allows you to create multiple email addresses, use one as a
throwaway "public" address). By entering a false name and phone number, such as
Wacky Waldo at 555-1212, you will be able to enter the site without providing a
telemarketer with fuel for a dinner-time phone call. And, obviously false names will be
apparent to marketers, keeping them from wasting time or phone calls.
And finally be wary of official-sounding e-mail that may in fact
be a hacker looking for passwords, a business looking for new clients or something worse.
For example, I recently received an e-mail that said, "We have detected that there
might be a bug or problem with your software. This can happen as a result of old software,
viruses, upgrades or lack of plug ins." The sender had no way of knowing anything
about me or my computer, but figured that by sending this message out to enough people, at
least some would respond. As part of this response process, the sender requested more
potentially damaging information about my computer.