7 things you should never do online

Illustration file picture. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

Illustration file picture. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

We all have bad habits, like biting our nails or drinking straight from the milk carton. While they’re bad form, they won’t steal your life savings. They won’t target your children.

But I cringe when people confess their hazardous digital activities and unacceptable digital etiquette. It’s time to quit the bad behavior. Here are seven things you should never do online.

1. Don’t be gullible

It doesn’t take much effort to create a convincing hoax. With the right phrasing and a dab of digital wizardry, you could convince millions of people that a celebrity has committed suicide, or that drilling a hole in your iPhone 7 will reveal a hidden headphone jack. (It won’t by the way, but here’s the video that has over 15 million views and fooled some into destroying their iPhones.)

There’s a hoax that claims Facebook’s privacy policy has changed, that all your pictures, posts and messages will now become public, and that people should post a statement that they do not give Facebook permission to share their private content. This particular post, like many others, cites a news source along with mumbo jumbo legal statutes.

It’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t, but if you hear something shocking, run a quick internet search before you believe it. You may save yourself a lot of embarrassment, and the pranksters will have less reason to fool people.

2. Never skip setting up 2FA

Don’t let the fancy name “two-factor authentication” throw you. It just means that to log in to your account, you need two ways to prove you are who you say you are. It’s like the bank or DMV asking for two forms of ID.

Most major services and companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, offer two-factor authentication. It’s essential to set it up, because it prevents people from accessing your account if your password is compromised. Some sites ask for your cellphone number, so they can text supplemental access codes to you if a password reset is enacted. You can also get alerts every time your account is accessed from an unfamiliar browser or device.

I have the steps necessary to set up 2FA on my site. It takes just a few minutes, so do it now, while you’re thinking about it. Click here to protect yourself from hackers, scammers and snoops.

3. Never use the same password for multiple sites

Passwords used to be so easy. Your pet bunny was named “Pinky,” so that became your password. Nowadays, passwords look more like JaYW1x%BuUnZ#. Even if you could remember this gobbledygook, do you really want to dream up more than one password that looks like this?

Security is vital these days, and complex passwords are the way to go. But there is a simple way to remember good passwords that are also unique to each site.

Trust me: Passwords are annoying only until someone commandeers your account. Using the same password is a mistake you only have to make once.

4. Don’t sync your social media accounts

It’s difficult keeping up with all your social media accounts. Services like Buffer, Hootsuite, and SproutSocial help you manage your social presence across several platforms from one dashboard. Unfortunately, some people make the mistake of scheduling the same message across all their profiles. Remember, tweets and Facebook posts are very different things, as are Instagram and Google+.

Social media is an art. It’s a little more time-consuming to tailor your announcements to each type of social media, but it’s like the old carpenter’s motto: measure twice, cut once.

5. Don’t share too much information about your kids

Sharing a few cute photos is fine, but posting too much private information can be very dangerous. I even warn the parents in my family: Suppose your 8-year-old daughter is at soccer practice, and a stranger approaches and says, “Hi, Susie. I work with your father, John, at the dentist’s office. He just had an accident in his blue 2014 Honda Accord and he asked me to drive you to him at St. Vincent’s Hospital.”

Today, it’s easier than ever for predators to find your child’s name and your professional and personal data. Aggressive predators might even track down schedules for sporting events and after-school clubs. Don’t give them a chance to sound credible.

6. Don’t use public Wi-Fi without giving it much thought

Most people feel very comfortable walking into a hip urban café and logging onto the local Wi-Fi. But is it really the local Wi-Fi? Lots of people log on to systems with names like “CoffeeShop” or “ILoveFood” and have no idea that they belong to data-hungry hackers.

These hackers set up their own fake public Wi-Fi with a misleading name. Upon logging in, the victim’s keystrokes are recorded and stolen, making it easy for the hackers to obtain personal information. Hackers will also send malware disguised as updates to a victim’s computer. Once the malware is installed, the hackers gain full control of the computer without the victim’s knowledge.

That’s why you want to use a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN service lets you create an encrypted connection with one of its servers, and you use that server to use the internet. The connection is encrypted through the server, so the VPN can’t see your traffic either. It’s a bit more complicated, but that’s the result.

7. Never get into arguments on social media

We have all stumbled into a meme that makes us angry. Or someone sends us a forwarded message that sounds totally misinformed. Or some troll posts a series of vicious comments. My advice: Do not engage.

There’s nothing tackier than a social media argument. Even well-intended comments can sound snarky and mean-spirited. Friendships often fall apart after sparring on Facebook or Twitter. If you need to sort out your differences, it’s best to do this in person or over the phone. Most social media arguments end badly.

Bonus: Don’t be an internet-trained MD

Medical diagnosis sites can be very handy for basic info, but for most physicians, they are the bane of their existence. Patients storm into waiting rooms, claiming to have dengue fever and Zika virus.

Hypochondria and the internet are a very bad mix. Believe me, online medical advice isn’t the second opinion you’re seeking.

Looking for other ways to behave better online? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.

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