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Advice guide - Protect yourself online

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Many of us use the internet as part of our daily lives, for banking, shopping, socialising and entertainment. Make sure you know how to protect your personal data and keep yourself, your friends and your family safe whilst online.

Protecting your computer

  • Make sure your Wi-Fi connection is secured and encrypted with a password so that others cannot access your internet connection. Avoid logging in to your email account from a public computer (e.g. at a hotel or internet cafe)
  • Ensure that your computer anti-virus and firewall software and your internet browser and plug-ins (such as Flash, Java and Silverlight) are kept up-to-date and enabled at all times.
  • Never reply to spam or unsolicited emails from an unknown or untrusted sender. Make sure you don’t download attachments or click links to web pages within spam emails as these can often contain viruses. Fraudsters can make an email address and email design look like one used by someone you trust.
  • Take regular back-ups of important files to an external hard drive, memory stick or online storage provider. It’s important that the device you back-up to isn’t left connected to your computer as any malware infection could spread to that too.
  • Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software if required, and make sure it's up to date.
  • Avoid saving sensitive information to your desktop. If your device is stolen or lost, it could be very easy for someone to access this information.
  • If you suspect that someone has hacked your computer, or is able to access or read what you are doing on your computer, spyware may be uploaded onto your device. Use your anti-virus/spyware tools to run regular checks and consider using a safe computer (such as a friend's or library's) and immediately change the passwords on your key online accounts such as email, social networking, bank/PayPal accounts.

Online safety advice

  • Regularly change your account passwords and don’t share these. Make sure you use a strong password using a mix of letters, numbers and punctuation. Use different passwords for different accounts. Try to use memorable hard to guess passwords, such as a phrase or fact, and update it regularly. 
  • Never share your personal data such as bank details, identity details, passwords or where you live with anyone that you don’t know or can’t verify their details.
  • Remember people that you meet online, might not be who they claim to be. Don’t arrange to meet people that you don’t know. If you do agree to meet someone you’ve made contact with online, make sure you tell someone when and where you are going, and take someone with you if possible.
  • Before posting comments and photos of yourself, friends and family online, think carefully about whether you want others to see these.
  • Consider creating different email accounts to use with financial services and retail accounts.
  • Consider setting up a filter so that junk emails are removed, and emails from a particular sender go straight to a certain file and don't appear in your inbox.
  • If someone gains unauthorised access to your email, change your password as soon as possible.

Shopping online

  • If you shop online, make sure you check that the companies are genuine. If you are not sure, make contact with them to confirm before purchasing, or purchase from an alternative online retailer.
  • When making online purchases make sure the connection is secure by looking for the padlock icon at the top or bottom of the Internet browser. Secure web addresses should also begin with ‘https’.
  • Purchase online using a secure payment method such as Paypal, or credit and debit cards.

Social networks

  • Avoid sharing your personal details such as your address, phone number, routine or place of work.
  • Review your privacy settings to make sure that only your friends can see your profile details and pictures.
  • When posting about your life, or with someone online, talk about where you've been rather than where you're going.
  • Add people that you know, as contacts or friends.
  • Do not share your passwords with anyone. If you think you may have revealed it accidentally, change the password as soon as possible.
  • Try to use memorable hard to guess passwords, such as a phrase or fact, rather than using the automatic log-in function offered on some browsers, and change them regularly.

Online dating and forums

  • Consider creating a username that doesn't reveal too much about yourself.
  • Avoid being too specific on your profile about where you work, where you live, or your surname, and don't include your phone number.
  • Consider using a new email or lesser used email address when setting up an account, one that if hacked, does not have all your bank details, shopping accounts, contacts etc.
  • When chatting with someone online it's better to talk about where you've been rather than where you're going.
  • Keep the conversation online. Many dating websites and forums will have rules to protect users from people using the site incorrectly.
  • If you decide to meet someone you know online, arrange to meet in a public place and ask a friend to come with you at first. If no one can accompany you, leave details of your plans with a friend and agree to contact them at a certain time.
  • Turn off your geo-location tags on your phone, before sending images to someone else. Some mobile phones and digital cameras automatically attach data to the photo file that identifies where the picture was taken, so turning this function off helps you to avoid a situation where someone you met online might be able to trace your movements.
  • Follow all safety advice given on dating websites.
  • Report any suspicious or offensive behaviour to the online dating site.

Meeting people in person

  • Tell someone where you're going, who you're meeting (name, website arranged through etc) and check in with them before, during and after the date. Agree that if you don't check in as agreed or respond then your friend would call the place where you've met or even go there to check on you.
  • Take a charged phone with credit.
  • Take money for a taxi home/plan a route on public transport.
  • Try and keep the number of a local, licenced mini-cab firm with you.
  • Don't give away personal information on a first date e.g. home address.
  • Don't leave drinks or devices such as phones unattended.
  • Don't share a taxi home with someone you don't know.
  • Carry a personal alarm.

Advice for parents and guardians

It is important to make sure that you know how to use your computer and how to look up which websites your child is accessing. Make sure you are able to restrict or block websites and material if necessary to protect your child.

The NSPCC has produced several guides on how to help inform and protect your children online (see below).

Share aware guide

A guide produced to empower parents to keep their children safe online. It includes conversation starters to help parents discuss online safety and advice on what to do if things go wrong online.

For a PDF version of this resource, please click this link


A comprehensive guide for parents on over 50 of the top social networks, apps and games that young people use. It includes key facts for each site, recommended age ratings, and information about safety features.

Visit the NetAware website here.

Talking to your child about staying safe online

Advice and tips on how to have effective conversations with your children about an array of online topics, including cyberbullying, online porn, and sharing images and information. 

Find out more from the NSPCC website.

How to report a problem online

  • If you or your child sees inappropriate content on a website or social networking site, make sure you report it directly to where the content appears online.
  • If the content relates to a crime committed in the UK, report it to the Police on 101. In the case of an emergency always dial 999.
  • Contact your Internet Service Provider.
  • Visit the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) or the Internet Watch Foundation

For additional online safety advice please refer to our Protect Yourself Online guide and the following websites:

  • Visit the Get Safe Online website for free, independent advice on using the internet.
  • Visit Action Fraud website for the UK’s national fraud reporting centre.

Contact information

To speak to our Crime Prevention Unit about protecting your property and reducing your chances of becoming a victim of crime, email crime.prevention@nottinghamshire.pnn.police.uk

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