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Kim's column

10 mistakes people make online

Ever click something in email or on the web and right afterward thought, “Boy, that was dumb.” You’re not alone. Every week on my national radio show, I take calls from people just like you who know better but make common tech faux pas.

Sure, I tell people how to find a hidden GPS tracker in their car, or how to hide their browsing history from their ISP so it doesn’t sell their data. But, I have noticed a trend of people making fairly common mistakes online that often have devastating results.

Whether you’re a seasoned tech pro or just getting the hang of this digital life, take a look at this list of 10 mistakes people make online, along with do-it-yourself security tips. Knowledge is power, and with today’s surge in online scams and crime, you have to stay vigilant.

1. Believing in internet luck

I can’t stress this point enough. If you get an email asking you to participate in a survey or a pitch for a money-making opportunity that you didn’t sign up for, know that email spam is surging and there are ways to protect yourself.

Instead of just clicking, open a new browser window (Chrome, Safari, Edge, or whatever you use) and search for the company name plus the word “scam” or “review.” Chances are if it’s a scam, someone else has complained about it.

If the email comes from a seemingly real person, do a quick search for the person’s name plus the company name. Better yet, use your LinkedIn account and search for the person and company. FamilyTreeNow is a pretty good site for looking people up, too.

2. Disregarding basic security features

Use two-factor authentication (2FA) any time a website or app offers it. Yes, it involves a couple of extra steps when you are using a new browser or need to reset a password. It’s well worth it. You’ll be protected when someone tries to access your accounts from a device the website doesn’t recognize.

You may have set up 2FA with your Facebook account. If you use a work, public, friend or family’s computer or new device to sign in, Facebook requires you to verify that it’s you, using 2FA.

If you have a Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, SnapChat, or Instagram account, I have the steps you need to take to set up 2FA in one handy article on my site.

3. Shopping online while drinking

Apparently, drunk shopping is a billion-dollar industry on Amazon. To protect yourself on the off chance this happens to you, set up spending alerts with your bank or credit card company. Most banks and credit cards let you set a dollar amount, and if you go over that amount, you’ll get a text message or email.

Here’s why: When you sober up and check your messages, you’ll have time to cancel your orders. As a bonus, if someone gets hold of your credit or bank card and makes purchases, you’ll get alerts if they go over your limit.

4. Wanting to know who you were in a past life

If you are logged into a website and take one of those tempting quizzes like “Find out which Harry Potter house your dog belongs in,” you’re potentially handing over personal information about you.

Most notorious infractions to date of this data mining happened in 2018 with the Cambridge Analytica Facebook breach.

Before you brush this off, know how the quizzes collect your data and sell your data.

When you take these quizzes, you’re helping websites create profiles about you so they can sell your information and target you with advertisements. Aside from the obvious “don’t take a Facebook quiz,” there are steps you can take to disable third-party app access to your personal information.

5. Whining that you can’t remember hard passwords

Please, in the name of all that’s holy, don’t use a password like “123456,” “abcd1234,” or “password.” I also don’t recommend that you use password formulas that are easy to hack, like “website+birthdate,” as in google1225, adobe1225 or facebook1225.

Then again, if you use a smart and distinct password for each account, how do you remember them all? My advice: Use a safe and secure password manager.

You might want to try a free password generator, which gives you crazy, impossible-to-hack-or-memorize passwords like p6Us9temWz#B. Apple users see this option already.

6. Thinking public Wi-Fi is your BFF

I know: Saying “Don’t use public Wi-Fi” is like saying, “Don’t go out in public.” It’s impossible. The obvious solution is a portable hotspot, but again, most of us won’t trifle with that.

So if you have to use public Wi-Fi, practice safe surfing. Use a VPN, which creates an encrypted connection through a secure server that allows you to browse the internet. Businesses have been using VPN (virtual private network) technology for years, and more private users are adopting them as well.

7. Picking a fight online

It’s becoming more apparent that people who take breaks from Facebook experience more happiness. Facebook and other social media platforms can bring out the worst in us. People argue and say things that they would never say in person.

If you’re upset, walk away. Take a break. Don’t post while drinking, either. Alcohol and social media don’t play nice together.

If you can’t break up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, or whatever channel monopolizes your time, use common sense. What gets posted, sent by email or text, never disappears.

8. Taking in-the-moment photos that seem like a great idea

Most of us wouldn’t dream of posting risqué pictures of ourselves online. But sometimes an image speaks louder than words, and in ways we don’t expect. Did someone snap an unflattering picture of you in a bar, drinking a mojito, cigar in hand? This charming portrait might not go over well at a PTA meeting or divorce proceeding.

That caution goes double for pictures of your kids. There’s a whole conversation on the internet about whether or not parents should post photos of their kids online and share them publicly.

In 20 years, will your children thank you for sharing their private lives with the world? One teen sued her parents for embarrassing Facebook photos. Not to mention, child predators set up fake social media profiles and troll pages looking for innocent victims.

Change your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter and Google so only your closest contacts can see your pictures. Don’t share full names, don’t share specific locations, share only with people you know, check with other parents before sharing photos of their kids, and wipe out hidden data from photos.

9. Telling the world, “Look at me, I’m on vacay!”

It’s so tempting to share in-the-moment updates and pictures while you’re on vacation. Think of these as public announcements that say, “I’m out of town. My house is empty. Go burglarize me.”

Wait until you get back home and post your photos after the fact.

10. Earning your medical degree online

Let’s say you have a persistent cough that has lasted a good eight weeks. When you searched online, you diagnosed yourself with pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung cancer, heart disease, acid reflux, and chronic bronchitis. After all, those conditions share similar symptoms. You’re freaked out.

Sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic are packed full of useful, reliable information, but that doesn’t mean they should replace your doctor.

Leave the diagnosing to medical professionals. Use those medical reference sites to learn more about what your doctors tell you, and always consult with your doctor before beginning any medical treatment.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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