Safety Online

Information and tips on how to stay safe online.

Exposure of personal information

Unsafe services

Before you start using an app or online service, think about whether it is likely to be reputable and google any concerns about it.   Also think about where data is stored and who regulates it. 

Unlocked accounts

If your accounts are open access you may not be able to see who is looking at your information.  When interacting in public or with a group you do not know well, try not to share identifiable personal information.   

Access controls

Before you give people access, think about whether your account is linked to information you can’t easily change such as your name or phone number.  If so, restrict access and give some thought to who you invite into your network. 

Password management

Don’t share passwords.  If you think your password may have been compromised change it immediately. 

Cookies and Tracking and Marketing permissions 

Many service providers will ask you to agree that they can collect information about other activities you carry out on the internet even after you log out from their service.  They may also ask for your permission to share this and any data you give them with a list of other organisations they partner with.  Make sure you read privacy terms and conditions before you agree to anything. Avoid ticking the box to allow marketing if you prefer not to receive marketing emails.  You can always remove your permission and unsubscribe later if you continue to receive unwelcome approaches. 

Abuse by trusted people 

On some apps it can be easy to mistakenly add another user with the same name as a person you intended to invite to a group you have created.  When giving people access to your accounts, think about what level of trust you want to have with them and act accordingly.  Also think about whether you are likely to want to have this person in your network over a long period of time rather than just for a one-off activity.   Carefully check before inviting someone. People may not be who they say / seem to be 

Also, be aware that when people have access to your social media accounts, they can look back through historic posts and pick up a lot of personal information about you. Be aware of posting content where you check in at a particular place/venue, as this can expose personal information about your whereabouts that you may not want certain people to know. 

Fraud & Deception

Phishing

Phishing is when someone tries to trick you into sharing sensitive personal data through email, text or phone. Phishing is often done through email, though voicemail (vishing) is becoming more common. Perpetrators will pose as legitimate organisations to dupe people into passing over sensitive data (bank details/passwords). 

Be aware of: 

  • Receiving communications from someone you don’t know, especially when you weren’t expecting it.  

  • Many phishing emails and texts often look generic as they are sent to many people and this can be a giveaway.  

  • If there is a sense of urgency ‘please respond immediately’, be wary. Most legitimate companies would give you time to respond to a communication, so you should exercise caution. 

  • If something looks too good to be true, it is often because it is! Phishing messages are often disguised as amazing one time offers or deals that you must claim now. If you have truly won something, it is unlikely you would be contacted this way. Be cautious.  

  • If you receive something with hyperlinks and attachments that look suspicious or unusual then don’t click/open as they could contain viruses.  Go to a company website through a search engine and log in directly if you want to check. 

  • Do not reply to anything that seems suspicious. The best action is to simply delete it. 

Money Laundering schemes

Money laundering is a crime that has been around for a long time, however there are concerns that since the Covid-19 pandemic, money laundering scams are becoming more common as people spend more time online. Money laundering allows criminals to move money which is usually gained through organised crime, through different bank accounts to make it look like it has been legitimately earned. Online money laundering scams are very common. 

There are many online scams that are common with money launderers. It is important you stay alert online and don’t find yourself involved in these activities as you could be breaking the law. Be aware of: 

  • Being asked to pay a deposit to secure a prize. If you are informed about winning something you never entered a competition for, this is highly suspicious. Being asked to send money to secure something like a prize is not standard practice unless you are looking to scam someone.  

  • Fake job adverts are common money laundering scams. They often involve overseas jobs that are likely to look too good to be true (lots of money and not much work). If you are asked to provide bank details or receive a cash transfer, this is likely to be a scam. 

Sales / Lettings fraud

Students can be particularly vulnerable to lettings fraud. This involves tenants being duped into paying fees upfront to secure a tenancy which either doesn’t exist or has already been rented to someone else.  Whilst it is not uncommon to pay upfront fee’s and rent to secure a tenancy, there are things you can look out for that could indicate lettings fraud. The following is advice from ActionFraud: 

  • Do not send money to anyone advertising rental properties online until you are certain the advertiser is genuine. 

  • If you need to secure UK accommodation from overseas, ask for help from your employer or the university you are going to attend. You could also get a friend, contact or relative to check the property exists and is available to rent. 

  • Do not pay any money until you or your contact has visited the property with a letting agent or the landlord. 

  • Ask for copies of tenancy agreement and Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). 

  • Get the bank account details directly from the landlord or letting agent before transferring funds. 

  • Do not be pressurised into transferring large sums of money. 

  • Be sceptical if you’re asked to transfer any money via a service such as Western Union. 

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/rental-fraud  

Romance scams

These are usually developed through social media and will involve defrauding the victim, or asking another person to unwittingly assist with money laundering.  Though many people meet online these days and in most cases these relationships are entirely legitimate, there are many ‘romance scams’ out there so you should exercise caution. If anyone you are developing a relationship with online starts talking about money, this should always raise suspicions. Being asked to wire money to someone or to received money into your account is definitely not ok and you should immediately cease contact with anybody who asks you do to this.  Fraudsters rely heavily on people being too embarrassed to report – don’t stay silent!  Talk to someone to get support and help. 

 

Aggressive and Exploitative Behaviour

Grooming, Blackmail, Radicalisation and Coercion

If you use social media, especially chat rooms, you can be exposed to unwanted behaviour from other people. This can be people personally known to you but in many cases, people you have met over the internet. 

If you feel uncomfortable with any conversations or the behaviour of others you should end the conversation. If the content of the conversation is abusive, you should report this to the platform you are using. You can also report harmful content through Report Harmful Content  

You need to be aware that some people may act like friends but have negative intentions. You need to be careful who you begin friendships with. Do not share too much personal information with people you don’t know. If someone is keen to have regular contact with you and asks you to keep secrets, not tell other people about your relationship or is secretive about who they are, this could be suspicious, and you should be wary.  

If you are concerned about a relationship you have formed online, speak to a trusted friend, family member or member of staff at University who may be able to help.  

Be aware that when people have access to your social media accounts, they can look back through historic posts and pick up a lot of personal information about you. Be aware of posting content where you check in at a particular place/venue, as this can expose personal information about your whereabouts that you may not want certain people to know. 

You can report concerns using Report and Support. https://reportandsupport.salford.ac.uk/ 

Radicalisation takes many forms and online grooming using technology typically accessed by younger people is a common method. Here is an article about how radicalisers are using online games technology to groom and radicalise young people in an effort to involve them in supporting extremist ideologies and groups.  

Bullying, Harassment and Stalking

If you experience bullying and harassment online don’t suffer in silence – talk to someone as soon as possible.  Online harassment and stalking is illegal in England and Wales. If you are being continually harassed you should block the perpetrator/s but keep a record of their details and any messages they have sent you, if you plan on reporting this.  You can get help and support from University by reporting this using our report and support facility. If you leave your contact details, it ensures we can contact you to offer advice and support https://reportandsupport.salford.ac.uk/.  If you believe you are in immediate danger, you should call 999. If you don’t feel there is immediate danger you can still report this by calling police non emergency on 101. 

Revenge Porn

It is a criminal offence to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress. As such, you can report this to the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can report crimes such as this using the Police non-emergency number 101.  If you become aware that something has been shared without your permission, after contacting the police, you need to contact the owner or ‘webmaster’ of the site/s where you have found this content and request, they take it down immediately. Most social media sites have a facility that allows you to report inappropriate content or users.    You can also report harmful content through Report Harmful Content or seek support from Revenge Porn Helpline who can give advice and support with how to remove content online  

Hate Crime

The term ‘hate crime’ can be used to describe a range of different behaviours that are motivated by hostility or prejudice usually on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, disability or transgender identity. Hostility on the basis of other characteristics and factors is known as a hate incident.  You can report hate crimes and incidents directed towards you and those you have witnessed. If you feel the incident was motivated by disability, race, religion, transgender identity, sexual orientation you need to ensure you make this clear when you report it, so it is recorded as a hate crime.  You can report directly to the police or to a third-party reporting centre, through True Vision online and / or to the University using Report and Support   

 

Screamer videos

Screamer videos have been around online for many years. They use disturbing images to purposely frighten the viewer, usually when this isn't expected. The content may initially seem very innocuous but will cut to an image that is designed to make the viewer jump or scream (hence the name). Screamers can be distressing.  Most screamers are passed on by friends.  If you don’t like screamers and want to avoid them, you should tell people you know not to send them.  Good friends should listen to you and take your wishes into consideration. If the content in these is harmful then you can report it through Report Harmful Content or through Report and Support  

Trolling

Trolls seek to create discord on the internet by posting controversial comments designed to upset people and cause distress. This can be for entertainment and trolls often use many platforms and sites to do this.  Be prepared and think twice before getting engaged in debates online with people you don’t know. If you do engage in these behaviours, take a moment to consider why you are commenting and what you hope to achieve. Be mindful that some types of content may be more likely to be targeted by trolls. Think about whether you are emotionally prepared for discourse with people who don’t have an interest in achieving a constructive outcome but may be deliberately seeking to upset or anger you.  If you encounter inappropriate material or comments you can report to the site itself, through Report Harmful Content or through Report and Support depending on the context. 

Fake news and conspiracy theories

It can be difficult to fact check information online, which can encourage fake news and conspiracy theories to develop and spread quickly. It is not always clear what is true or false online and people can be drawn into believing things that may have no truth to them. Once something has been shared, it can quickly go viral.  As much as possible, you should check the source of information you are accessing and ask yourself: 

  • Is this from a trusted source? 

  • Who originally shared it, and do they seem legitimate? 

  • Does this person have an ulterior motive for sharing this? 

  • Does this echo what other sources of news are saying? 

Just because something has been shared a lot, doesn’t mean it is true. Its important to always keep a critical mind. It can help to vary your sources of news and information. Although it can sometimes be difficult, try to fact check information  

https://fullfact.org/ Is the UK’s independent fact checking charity and can give you information on a range of issues in an impartial way.  

It is important to remember that some conspiracy theories are started with intent to cause harm, create unrest and cause disruption. Keep an open and critical mind when you are accessing ‘news’.  

For further information on conspiracy theories see this Sway article.

Dealing with unexpected attention: going viral or ‘being cancelled’

Going viral on the internet refers to something that has been posted, that becomes incredibly popular very quickly. This is usually through shares of the original post. This can be an image, video or written post.  Be careful what you share and who you share it with and always be prepared for feedback and indeed backlash if you share something without applying any privacy especially if the content is controversial, shocking or personal/intimate. If you don’t think you could handle something going viral, then make sure you are careful what you post and where you post it. Check your privacy settings. 

If you do suddenly get a lot of attention it can be overwhelming whether it is positive or negative.  If you don’t have a lot of followers even a relatively small increase can have an impact.  If you feel anxious or upset it is normal and it’s OK to ask for support.   

 

Studying and working online

Presentation and privacy 

With increased use of the online space to hold meetings, interviews, attend lectures and working groups, online etiquette is particularly important and can ensure you are not crossing boundaries and putting yourself at risk or causing harm and/or distress or embarrassment for others.  Before you use the online space for meetings/video calls, it is important to ensure you have your space looking appropriate:  

  • Consider blurring or changing your background, if you can. This option is a feature used on many video communications platforms.  

  • If you cannot change your background, consider what others will see on camera 

  • If relevant ensure people you live with are aware you have a meeting and the times of this, to limit interruptions 

It is important to consider your language and behaviour with online meetings. Just because you are sat in your room at home, does not mean you can behave any differently than you would if you were at work/University. 

Appropriate times to contact people, frequency of contact 

If you are contacting colleagues, tutors or other students, consider whether the time you are calling is appropriate for this kind of contact. Remember to consider people’s personal space and personal lives before contacting someone. Ask yourself if you would normally have access to them for a meeting/call at this time. If the answer is no, then you should avoid this contact until a more appropriate time. 

Other Risks

Advertising and Impulse buys 

Apart from scam adverts there are also adverts for services which are technically legitimate but are a really bad deal and rely on the fact that you might see them when you are online feeling tired, stressed, drunk or in a low mood. 

One example is online offers of credit which can be really tempting, especially if you are struggling. If you do apply for a loan, check they are a reputable provider. You can use Trustpilot to help you understand their approval rating.  If you need financial advice you can access this through the money matters service at University https://testlivesalfordac.sharepoint.com/sites/Uos_Students/SitePages/Money-Matters.aspx  

Resources

Free course: Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online

Our lives depend on online services. Gain essential cyber security knowledge and skills, to help protect your digital life.

 

Free course: Your online Privacy

What are the main threats to your online privacy? How can you protect yourself online? Learn here