June 10, 2010 11:27:00 AM
Last week it was reported that a Utah woman is suing the software company, Google, for $100,000 because she was hit by a car after following directions provided by the company''s Google Maps service. The woman used Google Maps to plan a 2-mile walk from one part of her hometown to another. Part of the directions included telling the woman to walk along Utah State Road 224, which is a busy highway with no sidewalks or pedestrian crossings. Instead of improvising and finding a safer route, the woman walked into the roadway and was struck by a car.
In light of this lawsuit, now is a good time to review a few common-sense rules to live by on the Internet.
Rule No. 1 (The Golden Rule of the Internet): Don''t post anything to the Internet that you don''t want made public.
Even though you think that private info you e-mailed your friend will stay private, even though you think your security settings on Facebook will keep your personal information secure, think twice before posting anything to the Internet that you wouldn''t tell someone you just met on the street. Tiger Woods'' family could have been saved a lot of embarrassment if he had followed this one. At least twice this year, Facebook glitches have exposed users'' private information. The nature of the Internet is to share information. There are too many easy ways for information to be passed along to risk posting any information that needs to remain private.
(This rule contradicts the claim that shopping and banking online is secure. In general, online transactions are secure. I both bank and shop online, but, like my shopping in-person, I try to limit my transactions to reputable companies. Whether we like it or not, more and more of our financial deals are taking place online.)
Rule No. 2: Don''t fall for Internet scams.
Scams abound online. Most commonly they appear in e-mails and on online classified ad websites. Be wary of any e-mail in which the sender asks for money -- even if you think you know who sent the e-mail. If you receive an e-mail from a friend asking for money, call that person and speak to them to confirm their request. Scammers will do enough research to be able to impersonate an acquaintance through e-mail. No matter how legitimate it seems, talk to the person making the request.
Classified ad websites such as Craigslist and even cdispatch.com can be a haven for scammers. A common scam involves the scammer posting a free pet classified ad. Once you contact the seller about the free pet, they will request money for shipping the animal to you. You pay the shipping but never receive the pet. Craigslist provides some guidelines about avoiding scams, and cdispatch.com reviews every free pet ad placed in our classified section to try to prevent this. Craigslist suggests only dealing locally with people you can meet in person, that you never wire funds via Western Union or Moneygram and that you never share your bank account information. (A full list of their tips can be found at www.craigslist.org/about/scams.)
Also, remember that your bank will never e-mail you and ask you to confirm your bank account information. Some Internet scammers will send an e-mail that appears to be from your bank. The e-mail will ask you to click a link to confirm your account information. Clicking that link will take you to a website that looks just like your bank''s website, but instead of confirming your bank account information, the website will collect your bank account number and password and then use that information to access your online banking. This scam is commonly referred to a phishing.
Rule No. 3: Don''t tell people when you are leaving home.
Many people use services like Twitter and Facebook to send status updates. Be cautious when posting information that criminals can use. Twitter updates are available for anyone on the Internet to see. Using Twitter''s advanced search option, I could search all updates in a certain city for "trip" or "leaving" to determine when someone is leaving home. Until recently, there was a website called pleaserobme.com that automatically searched for these type of Twitter updates. By visiting this site, you could see a list of everybody who was publicly announcing that they were leaving home. (The owners of this site have shut it down in the past couple of months.)
Rule No. 4: Protect against viruses and back up.
The easiest way to protect against computer viruses is to purchase an Apple Mac. There are very few viruses for Macs. A less expensive option is to purchase good anti-virus software and to use it. If you receive an e-mail from someone you don''t know, do not open any attachments or click any links in the e-mail.
Backing up can be as easy as purchasing a USB thumb drive and copying your personal files to it on a regular basis. These handy devices can be purchased for less than $20. A more through option is to purchase an external hard drive and to back up your entire computer. I won''t go into specifics on how to do this, but you should talk to someone at a computer store and do it regularly.
Rule No. 5: Use extreme caution when meeting people online.
Chat rooms, social media sites and message boards make meeting people online extremely easy, and these types of websites are only growing in popularity. The most recent Internet craze is around a website called Chatroulette.com. Using this website you can immediately be thrown into a 1-on-1 video chat with a complete stranger. If there is chemistry, you keep talking. If there is not, you go on to the next stranger. It''s similar to speed dating. Whether you are dating online or you''ve simply found someone with a common interest, you must be cautious when you decide to meet your new friend in person. This means meeting the person in a public space and bringing a friend. There are countless examples of kids and adults meeting people "off-line" and getting into trouble.
Bonus Rule No. 6: Don''t walk down a busy highway just because a website tells you to.
Have I left any out? If so, please log on to cdispatch.com and let me know in the comments section of this story. Be safe.
Peter Imes is the general manager at The Dispatch. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @pimes.
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