Top tips to help you stay safe online

Last updated on 10 April 2024

[Image courtesy of Nattakorn Maneerat via Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Never give out your password or details related to your password online
  • Make sure that answers to security questions are not shared online, especially on social networking sites
  • If you come across news, text messages, emails or online messages that seem unusual, find out through by verifying with trusted sources

If you want to use the World Wide Web to search, socialise or stay informed, but have heard horror stories about the internet you are not alone.

The internet is a fantastic tool to stay in contact with your family and friends from home, purchase goods and find out more about the world around you, but you’re right to be careful and this information article will guide you through some of the things to consider when using the computer.

When you first purchase a new computer, it is important to purchase antivirus software (such as Norton AntiVirus or Mcafee), which will act like a guard dog against nasty bugs, trackers or problems that you may not notice when using the computer.

If you are unable to set up your computer for the first time or require assistance in installing antivirus software, seek some help. Most councils, community centres or libraries run programs to help seniors find their way online. 

For example Telstra offers the Tech Savvy Seniors program, which runs free or low cost classes in local libraries and community colleges for up to fourteen different languages. Additionally, Be Connected, which is a program run by the Australian Government to assist in understanding technology and staying safe online, offers online safety presentations and can assist in navigating nearby classes to learn more.

While it can be tempting to save money by downloading antivirus software which claims to be free, there is no such thing as a free lunch and programs such as that can cost far more than paid software if your computer is at risk.

Shopping safely

Shopping online is a brilliant way to get items shipped to your door, especially if you are unable or unwilling to travel to or from a store.

It is important to note that many websites which enable you to shop online will require that you create an account for that website. Accounts will typically need your email address and ask you to create a password, which you can use to sign in, order, purchase and sign out of after you have finished shopping.

Other additional details will need to be provided upon signing up or upon purchase of goods, such as your name, the shipping address and/or billing address, along with your bank details.

To read our comprehensive guide for creating a secure password, please visit the ‘Being wary of scams and sharing your personal information’ article by clicking the link.

Although online shopping can be much cheaper than shopping in person, due to savings on retail staff and property, it is important to remain sceptical of items which appear to be much cheaper than the prices you would expect from a trusted vendor.

A good way to find out if you’re on the right track and can buy from a website that you once shopped at in person is to call a local retail store (such as Kmart) and confirm whether the web address is correct.

Be careful of shipping costs which may not appear until you are told to confirm the purchase, as vendors may add sneaky fees or expensive shipping charges which can make you pay more than expected.

Make sure that you receive a digital copy of your receipt, which will either be available through your account with the website or emailed to the address you have provided.

Text, such as descriptions of the item or information about the supplier can be a great way to tell whether you are purchasing from a trustworthy website, with grammar and punctuation indicating the level of care and attention that you would expect from advertisements in the newspaper or in junk mail.

Some sites may try to trick you into thinking that they are reputable, in the same way that scam phone calls often claim to be from the Australian Government or a telecommunications provider such as Telstra or Optus. Avoid interacting with or opening websites which have URL addresses (the website address at the top of your browser or highlighted link on your screen) which look different from what you would expect.

The same thing applies to unexpected text messages via phone or unsolicited emails, with imposters claiming to be someone that you know or an organisation that appears legitimate. Contacting the real person, company or department through the number or email address listed on the official website can be a good way to find out whether the text or email is genuine.

It’s important to know that the news you are reading is accurate, in order to stay up to date with world affairs and community information. The easiest way to avoid taking news at face value is to click the article, but some articles online should be avoided or serve as advertisements that encourage you to purchase or share your information.

If the web address begins with HTTPS (such as the website is more likely to be secure and reputable than a website without it.

When creating your account, remember that any information you provide is also stored by the group you are creating the account for. Recent breaches in online data mean that you should update your password regularly, if possible.

If you are prompted to sign up for email newsletters or updates, you may also be contacted by other unsolicited email addresses during a data leak. If you start to receive unwelcome emails, check whether your antivirus software has noticed any activity.

Social media safety

Social media lets you chat with loved ones, connect with community groups and share pictures with each other, but just like shopping online, many will try to trick you into sharing information to bad actors or reading news which is not accurate.

A good way to know that you’re connecting online with someone that you know in person, rather than an imposter, is to confirm an online connection through other means.

If you have spoken with someone you are related to over the phone, but they have tried to connect with you or you have reached out to them on the computer, it’s worth a phone call to confirm that the request was delivered or sent by the real deal.

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