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Stay safe when socialising online

Online forums and social media sites are great for keeping in touch with friends and family, but think twice about what information you put online and who can see it.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as nice as they first appear online and there are people who use social media to embarrass, harass and stalk people or to steal personal information, money and identities.

What to look out for

Scammers use social media to make their approaches more personal. They can learn a lot about you from your profiles, including who your family and friends are, your interests and where you work or live. Using this information, they can try to:

  • connect with you as a friend, work contact, or romantic interest.
  • approach you with fake shopping deals, giveaways or investment opportunities they think will appeal to you.

These scams can also appear as fake ads in your feed – be wary that just because a post appears as ‘suggested for you’ doesn’t mean the retailer is legitimate. In fact, investment scams, fake online shopping sites and dating and romance scams are widespread on social media.

Here are some tricks scammers use when contacting you, to make you think you’re dealing with someone you know:

  • they copy real profiles
  • they hack into legitimate profiles
  • they send phishing (scam) messages using legitimate-looking brands, logos or contact details.

Once they’ve won your trust, scammers prey on your emotions to pressure you into making a decision quickly, and to hand over your personal information and money – with no intention of giving you anything in return.

Protect yourself when using social media

You can control what information others see about you, to help reduce risk when you’re socialising online.

1. Be in control of what you share

Set your social media accounts to ‘private.’ For most social media platforms, your profile picture can be seen by anyone, but you can lock down most other things like your birthday, contact details, photos, posts or tagging by others to ‘friends only’ in your account’s privacy settings. You can also change your profile picture to something that’s not a photo of yourself.

To help get you started, here are some popular social media sites’ step-by-step privacy check-up guides:

Tip: Uploading compromising photos from a night out with friends may seem funny in the moment, but be aware that many organisations check the online profiles of job applicants. You might not want the photos and information you share with your friends to be seen by a prospective employer! Spontaneous posting can also have lasting impacts on things like study prospects, relationships or even applying for rental properties.

Take the time to read how your social media site uses your information, like where you live, your date of birth, or employment details, for example. Often sites provide this information to other organisations to target you with advertising. And your risk to identity theft can increase if these organisations experience a data breach for example.

Tip: You might need to hand over some personal details to create a social media profile but you don’t always have to fill in every field. You can protect your privacy by choosing to give away as little information as possible.

2. Secure your account to keep others out

Protect your social media accounts with strong passwords.

Turn on a second layer of security (called two-factor authentication) on your social media accounts – like a code sent to your mobile phone or a fingerprint scan, each time you want to log in. If someone cracks your password, having two-factor authentication will help prevent them from accessing your account.

3. Be a good online citizen

Think before you post. Once information is online it is almost impossible to remove. Before you post, ask yourself – am I comfortable if this image or information is public and can be seen by my employer?

Be careful what you say about others online. Posting rude, offensive or derogatory comments about another person or business can have legal consequences.

Sexual predators use social media to groom and ‘win’ people over online before arranging a face to face meeting. Avoid sharing information over social media that may compromise your security or the security of others including children. Think before you share or allow any of the following:

  • geolocation and allowing apps to automatically access your location (you should turn this feature off in the app’s settings on your device whenever you’re not using it)
  • dates of birth
  • addresses
  • information about your daily routine
  • holiday plans
  • your children's schools
  • photos of you or your family and friends - always seek permission before posting a picture of someone else.

Get help

If you think you’ve been scammed, don’t feel embarrassed or helpless. Head to our Get Help page for steps you can take quickly to protect yourself from further harm, report the scam, or seek assistance if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.