Step 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10

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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 A’s 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.

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