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Complete Guide to Online Safety, Phishing and Scams

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path® by rating it at the end.

More than half of Americans say that either they or a close friend or family member have been affected by either an online scam or a security breach at some point. While scammers are well known for targeting large businesses, many of them specifically target the average person in the hopes of getting a pay day. Security issues and breaches are dramatically increasing year over year, and it's become vitally important for everyone to be aware of the risks involved in being online and how you can stay as safe as possible.

This article will introduce you to common tech topics that affect your online security, and will help you navigate through them.

Phishing Scams and Email

In 2019, the FBI reported that Phishing was by far the most prevalent type of online scam in the modern era. Phishing, in essence, is an email or message that is made to look like it's from either a company or person that you trust. The people behind phishing scams are constantly improving their methods and changing their tactics, so it's important to learn about ways to identify what's real and what isn't to keep your information safe.

Learning how to tell which email attachments are safe and which aren't is also an essential skill that you should learn in order to avoid theft of your personal information, or infection of a Windows-based PC.

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor Authentication (also known as Two-Step Authentication) gives you an extra layer of protection from account hijacking by using a second form of authentication when you log into your accounts (typically via text message/SMS) to ensure that it's really you who is accessing the account. 

Popular service providers, such as Facebook, Apple/iCloud, and Google all provide Two-Factor Authentication services, but the way they are set up varies slightly from service to service.

Online Marketplace Scams

Online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist have been extremely popular for several decades, with Facebook launching its own service called Facebook Marketplace in 2016. While they all share some similar features, they also have unique features and quirks that can introduce their own risks as well.

We've researched and documented the top scams found on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist.

Parental Controls

Using Parental Controls is one of the best ways to monitor and/or restrict your child's activities online. There are solutions available for different devices, from smartphones/tablets to Windows and Apple computers. Many wireless routers, gaming consoles and smart TVs also offer some degree of Parental Control which can be turned on. Generally, monitoring apps will allow you the flexibility to choose how you want to approach the issue of questionable content with your child - either by warning you of certain types of activity (but not automatically blocking them), to immediately cutting off internet access for the device in question. How you decide to approach these challenging and difficult situations is ultimately up to you - we have compiled a comprehensive guide on Parental Controls for many different devices, which can help start you off on the right path.

Passwords

Creating secure passwords is absolutely the most important thing that you can do to keep your information safe online. It is the first target for hackers, and the simpler your passwords are, the easier it is for someone to access your accounts. Generally, it's highly recommended that you create long, complex passwords that do not contain easily guessable information (like a relative's name and birthday), that also contain a mix of upper and lower case letters, with a sprinkle of special characters thrown in for good measure.

Online Activities

Online Gambling

Believe it or not, online gambling has been in existence since the mid '90s. It's a huge industry which brings in roughly 40-50 billion dollars a year globally. Many countries have outlawed online gambling for various reasons. In the United States, many states have outright banned it, though some gray area websites exist where users from prohibited countries/states are able to play for real money. Using sites like this are not recommended, as the legal implications are far reaching, and in some cases, devastating. The question of whether online gambling is safe depends wildly on your location and which kind of sites you use.

Downloading Movies, Music, Book and Apps

The appeal of getting something for free has been around since the advent of currency. Many of us know someone who has downloaded something that they should have paid for at some point. Some people see downloading media for free as a victimless crime -  one that, on the surface, seems overlooked by large media corporations. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Media companies are watching via third party agencies, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) generally help them identify users who download pirated movies, television shows, books and more. Not all downloading, however, is illegal. There are several free streaming and downloading services that feature content approved by companies that are generally ad-supported. We can help you navigate the the dangers of "free" media and talk about which services are out there, and which ones are legit.

Keeping Your Personal Information Safe Online

Most studies agree that the average person spends more than 6 hours online each day. Social media, shopping, messaging, research and more takes up a considerable portion of our waking hours. Because of this, it's more important than ever for people to be aware of their digital footprints and what information they share online. Regularly auditing ALL of your online accounts, using multiple email addresses, password protecting your mobile devices, and sharing less information about yourself online are some things that you can do to get started on having a more safe and secure online presence.

 

Further Reading

Further Reading

The following guides expand on the topics above and can further assist you.

Parental Controls
Parental Controls

How Parental Controls Work

Set up parental controls on a computer:

Set up parental controls on a router:

Set up parental controls on a mobile device:

Set up parental controls on a game console:

Set up parental controls on a TV:

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More than half of Americans say that either they or a close friend or family member have been affected by either an online scam or a security breach at some point. While scammers are well known for targeting large businesses, many of them specifically target the average person in the hopes of getting a pay day. Security issues and breaches are dramatically increasing year over year, and it's become vitally important for everyone to be aware of the risks involved in being online and how you can stay as safe as possible.

This article will introduce you to common tech topics that affect your online security, and will help you navigate through them.

Phishing Scams and Email

In 2019, the FBI reported that Phishing was by far the most prevalent type of online scam in the modern era. Phishing, in essence, is an email or message that is made to look like it's from either a company or person that you trust. The people behind phishing scams are constantly improving their methods and changing their tactics, so it's important to learn about ways to identify what's real and what isn't to keep your information safe.

Learning how to tell which email attachments are safe and which aren't is also an essential skill that you should learn in order to avoid theft of your personal information, or infection of a Windows-based PC.

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor Authentication (also known as Two-Step Authentication) gives you an extra layer of protection from account hijacking by using a second form of authentication when you log into your accounts (typically via text message/SMS) to ensure that it's really you who is accessing the account. 

Popular service providers, such as Facebook, Apple/iCloud, and Google all provide Two-Factor Authentication services, but the way they are set up varies slightly from service to service.

Online Marketplace Scams

Online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist have been extremely popular for several decades, with Facebook launching its own service called Facebook Marketplace in 2016. While they all share some similar features, they also have unique features and quirks that can introduce their own risks as well.

We've researched and documented the top scams found on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist.

Parental Controls

Using Parental Controls is one of the best ways to monitor and/or restrict your child's activities online. There are solutions available for different devices, from smartphones/tablets to Windows and Apple computers. Many wireless routers, gaming consoles and smart TVs also offer some degree of Parental Control which can be turned on. Generally, monitoring apps will allow you the flexibility to choose how you want to approach the issue of questionable content with your child - either by warning you of certain types of activity (but not automatically blocking them), to immediately cutting off internet access for the device in question. How you decide to approach these challenging and difficult situations is ultimately up to you - we have compiled a comprehensive guide on Parental Controls for many different devices, which can help start you off on the right path.

Passwords

Creating secure passwords is absolutely the most important thing that you can do to keep your information safe online. It is the first target for hackers, and the simpler your passwords are, the easier it is for someone to access your accounts. Generally, it's highly recommended that you create long, complex passwords that do not contain easily guessable information (like a relative's name and birthday), that also contain a mix of upper and lower case letters, with a sprinkle of special characters thrown in for good measure.

Online Activities

Online Gambling

Believe it or not, online gambling has been in existence since the mid '90s. It's a huge industry which brings in roughly 40-50 billion dollars a year globally. Many countries have outlawed online gambling for various reasons. In the United States, many states have outright banned it, though some gray area websites exist where users from prohibited countries/states are able to play for real money. Using sites like this are not recommended, as the legal implications are far reaching, and in some cases, devastating. The question of whether online gambling is safe depends wildly on your location and which kind of sites you use.

Downloading Movies, Music, Book and Apps

The appeal of getting something for free has been around since the advent of currency. Many of us know someone who has downloaded something that they should have paid for at some point. Some people see downloading media for free as a victimless crime -  one that, on the surface, seems overlooked by large media corporations. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Media companies are watching via third party agencies, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) generally help them identify users who download pirated movies, television shows, books and more. Not all downloading, however, is illegal. There are several free streaming and downloading services that feature content approved by companies that are generally ad-supported. We can help you navigate the the dangers of "free" media and talk about which services are out there, and which ones are legit.

Keeping Your Personal Information Safe Online

Most studies agree that the average person spends more than 6 hours online each day. Social media, shopping, messaging, research and more takes up a considerable portion of our waking hours. Because of this, it's more important than ever for people to be aware of their digital footprints and what information they share online. Regularly auditing ALL of your online accounts, using multiple email addresses, password protecting your mobile devices, and sharing less information about yourself online are some things that you can do to get started on having a more safe and secure online presence.

 

Further Reading

Further Reading

The following guides expand on the topics above and can further assist you.

Parental Controls
Parental Controls

How Parental Controls Work

Set up parental controls on a computer:

Set up parental controls on a router:

Set up parental controls on a mobile device:

Set up parental controls on a game console:

Set up parental controls on a TV: