thinkuknow - New Cybersafety Website
Imagine logging onto to Facebook and being immediately bombarded by one of your good friends asking you for help. They tell you they've gotten themselves into serious trouble and need you to transfer them some money.
You're worried, so you ring your friend to find out what's happened. They answer and have no idea what you're talking about. They're not even on Facebook.
So who have you been talking to?
As impossible as this sounds, it's exactly what happened to Giulio Detti, 23.
"I was at home watching a movie and I get a call from a friend asking me what I'd done," Giulio says. "He was freaking out because I'd just told him on Facebook that I needed $10,000. But I wasn't even on online."
Concerned, Giulio logged on to his account. His friend wasn't the only one he'd asked for money. He'd supposedly been chatting to five other people and had asked them all for cash.
"Obviously I panicked. I had no idea who was using my account. I'd been hacked and I didn't even know," Giulio says. "Sure, no one was planning on giving the guy money, but there's so much personal stuff on there that I'd rather not have fall into a stranger's hands."
Giulio immediately contacted the site's administrators to tell them what had happened. In response to his report, Facebook took down his page for three weeks.
So what's the worst that can happen?
Australian Federal Police project and crime prevention officer Melissa Sevil says Giulio was incredibly lucky.
"Young people often underestimate the dangers associated with social networking sites. They don't understand that there are people out there looking to take advantage of them," Officer Sevil says.
"That's why we strongly advise against young people sharing their passwords with their friends. They think it's a sign of trust, but that friend can log into your account after a fight and use it to cyberbully," she says.
In Giulio's case, the hacker wasn't a friend, but someone who had managed to guess his password and gain access to his account.
"You should always keep your password in a safe place and choose something that's impossible to guess," Officer Sevil says.
But someone stealing your password isn't the only thing you have to worry about when using Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Cyber-safety expert Dr Martyn Wild says social networking is full of risks, especially as we get older.
"We are so open and trusting of friends of friends and accept them online even though we've never met them. That's extremely dangerous and can result in unwanted contact or bullying," Dr Wild says.
"Then there's loss of control. Having your profile illegally accessed and how that hacker might misrepresent you. It doesn't help that many of us don't have our profiles on private, so anyone can access and forward the information we post," he says.
"It all comes down to thinking about the implications of our actions online. When we send something to a friend, we don't consider how someone else might read it. What if that person forwards it?"
Dr Wild warns young people to always consider exactly how detrimental the images and information they share online could be.
"How would you feel if that information or photo fell into the hands of someone you didn't know or didn't want to have it? With online that happens all the time."
So what can I do to protect myself?
In an effort to educate young people and their parents about these risks, the Australian Federal Police have joined forces with Microsoft Australia to create the internet safety program thinkuknow (new window).
The website is full of information and tips on how to stay safe online and includes a page where you can report cyber abuse.
As a member of the high-tech crime operations team, Officer Sevil says we should exercise the same caution online as we do on the street.
She offers these tips:
- Be careful about who you add and speak to online - you wouldn't start up a chat with a complete stranger on the street, so why would you do it on Facebook?
- Use your privacy setting so only the people you trust can view your profile
- Limit the amount of personal information you share, even among your friends
- Never post your full name or phone number
- Remember that the information you post online never disappears
If you feel unsafe while social networking, Officer Sevil says you should always speak up.
"Young people often don't know who to turn to when something happens to them online," she says. "If they have concerns for their safety they should speak to their parents or a trusted adult and contact the site administrators immediately. They should also report any serious concerns to the police."
So don't be shy. If something happens to you online report it. And don't panic. Social networking doesn't have to be dangerous, as long as you always exercise caution.
Check out our Web & Social Safety section for more tips and advice on safety online, and check out our Articles archive for more information about Technology and the internet and Health & relationships.
Articles Written by Elisa
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