One of the blessings of online chatting is that you can communicate with virtually anyone in the world without leaving your house. But there are downsides. Without the proper knowledge, the internet is not always an anonymous place where you can hide your data.
What are the risks of chatting online?
Although many online chatting sites show their users’ full names, these may not be everyone's real-life details. So, it’s easy to portray yourself as a famous person or someone you’re not with a fake profile.
With this impersonation, it becomes easy to scam and deceive others in numerous ways. It makes it hard to trace any wrongdoing back to the schemer if they are not using real credentials.
Without proper end-to-end encryption, your conversations that you don’t want them to read are more traceable to other people online.
Frequent hackers attacks
Someone may retrieve your data by hacking into chatting rooms online if you’re exchanging sensitive details like names, phone numbers, addresses, bank accounts, card numbers or photos. Unfortunately, hackers can exploit this precious information in many ways, like phishing, fraud, identity theft, and extortion.
11 tips for staying safe when chatting
Don’t share personal information
Never disclose any personal details when chatting with random people online. This includes your name, physical address, IP address, location, phone number, banking details, employee information, photos, and anything else that can identify you.
Check their friends list
A quick look at someone’s friends' list can reveal useful information. If a user is shady, they may:
Have a low number of friends or contacts (suggesting that they are new to the platform)
Have friends with weird profile pictures, names, or other strange behavior
Never use a webcam
Webcam hacking is a real thing. Here, a hacker infiltrates your device through malware (e.g., from phishing), causing your webcam to remotely take videos and images of you, along with accessing your files and browsing history.
Try Google image search analysis
This is an interesting trick to use for profile pictures. If someone is a scammer, they will likely use someone else’s appearance. Using Google Reverse Image Search gives you an extensive history of that image, telling you whether it’s been tampered with or belongs to another individual.
You can find that person’s other potential social media accounts and more information about them.
Don’t meet offline
Generally, you should not meet most contacts you chat with online. However, in exceptional circumstances (like a potential romantic partner, family member, or business contact), you should take the necessary safety precautions.
Use a nickname
With enough clever digging, a mere name can reveal a lot about a person. You should always use a nickname or a peculiar user ID not linked to your real name.
Don’t tell people where you live
Like your name, your location can divulge sensitive details, leading criminals to your house or workplace. Additionally, any photos you share should not show your living place or those of your closest contacts.
Never send your phone number
A phone number is another piece of private information that you shouldn’t share willy-nilly for obvious reasons:
No one wants to get unsolicited phone calls
It prevents phishing and other malicious attempts to hack your phone
Avoid posting or sending your photos
Similar to other tidbits of personal content, a photo can offer insight into where you live and places you frequent. Also, criminals can use your snapshots for identity theft or impersonation.
Use secure online chatting tools for sensitive data
In exceptional cases where you need to exchange sensitive data, consider a free online chatting tool like Duckist.com. With this service, any info you share remains concealed thanks to encrypted links. What’s more, the links can be accessed once before they self-destruct.
Block scary people
Naturally, many of us frequently chat with people we’ve never met in real life. Still, you can observe whether someone is genuinely friendly or not. Thus, if a contact seems scary or suspicious, you should be able to block them from contacting you in the future.
Report suspicious activity
Many apps will have a feature where you can report any questionable behavior to external moderators to minimize the risk of chatting. These individuals can suspend or permanently block the offender from using their platform.
Ultimately, it all boils down to gut instincts. Conversing with people on the net isn’t much different from real life, besides the virtual barrier. In this predatory world, you must be cautious and only trust someone you’ve known long enough.