Digital Harmony: Navigating the Online World Safely

Admittedly, online safety isn’t something you see a healthcare professional for—but I do see a lot of email and user names on intakes and in our system. I am amazed at how much information people accidentally give away with their choices. Many of you know I was an officer in the Navy. What many of you may not know is that while my official designator was “Naval Nuclear Power Officer” my actual expertise and where I spent the most time working as an officer and civilian employee of the Navy after that—was in something called “Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection”. Under the “Force Protection” side, we trained sailors in basic self-defense practices for better personal safety (situational awareness, evaluating risk) and online safety.

In the years since then, I have seen friends' children stalked by online predators, some of whom even came calling in person. I have watched people give away critical personally identifying information unintentionally, and more shockingly, worked with a surprising number of people who are survivors of sex trafficking. The majority of those survivors were not trafficked in foreign countries—it was right here at home. Some were recruited by school friends, some by family members, and some by people they met online. Many of those school friends knew to target them because they had been identified in advance through their online profiles. So in the spirit of being smart and protecting yourself online, here are some basic prevention measures lessening the odds of the minor annoyance of having your Facebook account hacked—to the major annoyance of having your bank account hacked—or the nightmare of having your child targeted online.


  1. Use a password manager: Do your research when choosing; Bitwarden is one of the more reputable ones, translates across devices, and allows you to share passwords when you want. The in-house Apple one is also a well-known manager. Remember: If you use one of these, have a solid access password to that account.
  1. Minimize personally identifiable information in your emails and user names: 
    1. Using your birth year in your email (rsmith1978, jmd2001)
    2. Having your middle initial or middle name as part of your email or user name (janemariedoe, janemdoe)
    3. Using the year you got married (jones4eve2000), the year of your child’s birth (mikka2015), the year you graduated from school (jetson1984) 

Any of these as part of your username or your email gives away information that makes it easier for someone to impersonate you online.

  1. Do change your passwords regularly: Item #1 above makes this much easier.
  1. If you do use a repetitive password across low-risk sites: Ensure your financial information isn’t linked to those accounts (But it is always best practice to use a unique password for every site!)
  1. Teach your children to use a creative username that is not their name: Especially on gaming and social media sites; likewise where they go to school, who their teachers and coaches are etc. should not be widely public. Photos of your child are a personal choice—the world should be a nicer place than it is sometimes. I personally would not want to share what my 6-year-old looks like and is in Mrs. Jones's class at XYZ Elementary with anyone who cared to look at my profile. 
  1. Verify that you truly know the people whom you link with on social media: Check with them offline to verify a friend request—especially if you already think you are connected with them on that platform.
  1. Those fun games where you match your birth year to your favorite ice cream to your first car to get your derby horse name or secret fairy name or whatever…sure, share your results and have fun with it—but don’t use your actual real information to post! 
  1. Facebook Birthday Reminders: I know these are all the rage, but personally my birthday on Facebook isn’t my actual birthday. Unless it’s legally required (like for banking, etc.) I don’t put it anywhere and I don’t make it public. 
  1. Teach your kids to be wary of people they don’t know in real life (IRL) online: More than one of my friend's kids were suckered into believing that the 30-50 y/o guys they were chatting with online was someone their age they could trust—someone who understood them better than anyone, knew how they felt and related to them so deeply and magically that they agreed to meet them a) in the driveway of their home at 2 am by sneaking out, or b) by secretly agreeing to have bus tickets mailed to them so they could run away and be together or c) the local mall, telling their parents they were going to hang out with “other friends” (who weren’t at the mall). Luckily all of these stories have a happy ending—but not everyone is so lucky. One friend of mine went to Mexico with someone she met online and didn’t know very well. No one ever saw or heard from her again and who she thought he was—didn’t actually exist. Be careful! 
  1. It’s not just the kids: Older people don’t always know the risks and can be the targets of scammers. Common elderly scams involve (but are not limited to): Giving money, giving access to their accounts, impersonating family or loved ones in danger, or worse. 

In one case, a scammer texted a photo of “his” driver’s license to prove who he was (a blurry hard to read one that clearly was fake to someone with good eyes) but to an elderly woman with poor eyesight who assumed that if he sent his drivers license, it must be legit! She was lonely and he was very interested in her and she wanted it to be true—if only she could send him some Apple gift cards and an iPad, he would trade those for a bus ticket to come meet her in person…She ended up selling off most of her jewelry and using most of her savings to “help” him and then once she was out of money—he vanished and ghosted her.

  1. You can meet some amazing people online: I met my husband online, and I’ve met other great people online. I’m not trying to scare you away from the online world—just reminding you to think a little about what information you give away in innocent interactions online; be careful to verify who these people are in real life, and don’t just sail off into the sunset without a little caution.

Good online safety practices can reduce the stress and anxiety of being online. Practice what you preach to your kids and take care of your elders online too!

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