Your family’s guide to staying safe online

How to protect your loved ones in a digital world

Whether it’s for work or play, the internet is a big part of our day-to-day lives. But as useful as it is, it’s important to be wary of the risks – and to know how to protect yourself and your family when using it.    

Think before you share anything online 

Social networking makes it easy for us to share our lives and keep in touch with friends and family. But it’s important to think about what you’re posting online – and who might be able to see it. 

Whenever you post, like, comment or share online, you leave a trail of information behind. This is known as your ‘digital footprint’. 

Fraudsters can use your digital footprint to their advantage. Oversharing personal details could make you more likely to be targeted by an online scam or leave you vulnerable to things like identity theft. If your children are sharing too much, it could put them at risk of being targeted too. 

So here are some things you and your loved ones can do to stop what you share online being used against you:  

  • Don’t share anything too personal – limit what you share on social media sites, online forums and in chat rooms. You should also be careful not to give personal details away in photos either, such as the street you live on or where your child goes to school. 
  • Keep it private – review your privacy settings across social media sites and online forums that you use. Where possible, set these to private – that way you can choose who sees what you post.
  • See what search engines (e.g. Google or Bing) say about you – looking yourself up on search engines can help you get an idea of what information is available about you online for others to see. If you can’t remove this information yourself, ask the hosting website to delete it for you.

Put the right safety measures in place at the right age  

No matter how old your children are, it’s important that you speak to them regularly about how they’re using the internet. They need to know they can always come to you if they’re worried or see something upsetting online. 

Depending on their age, the way you approach the conversations may be different. Here are some ways you can make sure your children – big and small – are using the internet in a safe way for their age. 

Ages 4-9 

  • Only let them use devices under your supervision (such as in a communal area of your home).
  • Use parental controls to make sure they don’t stumble across any upsetting or inappropriate content. Internet Matters has lots of step-by-step guides on how to set up parental controls on specific search engines, devices and broadband networks.
  • Supervise the apps they’re using to make sure they’re age appropriate and speak to them about asking your permission before making any in-app purchases.

Ages 10-12 

  • Encourage them to show you what they’re doing online and what apps they’re using. 
  • Speak to them about being safe when using social media and not to post personal information online or talk to strangers. Remember, most social media sites set a minimum age limit of 13 years.
  • Use Net Aware to get advice on using social media sites and apps, including age ratings, the risks they pose and what settings to use to make them as secure as possible.

Ages 13+

  • Remind them that, even though they can use the internet more independently now, they should speak to you if they’re worried about anything they’ve seen online. 
  • Speak to them about the risks of online scams and how to spot the signs themselves, as they’re likely to come across them at some point.
  • Be open with them about sensitive subjects such as cyberbullying. Internet Matters has some useful guidance on speaking to your teens about these topics. 

For children of all ages, if you’re worried about their online safety, contact NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. And if your child needs someone to talk to, they can call Childline on 0800 1111.

Help your elderly or vulnerable relatives use the internet safely 

Elderly and vulnerable people often use the internet to give themselves a level of independence. But they may not have developed the skills they need to protect themselves from the risks. This means they could be more likely to fall victim to an online scam or be more trusting towards people they meet online.

Being able to identify a fraudster at work could stop them from becoming a victim themselves. See spot fraud to stop fraud for guidance on spotting scams and visit Think Jessica for more advice on protecting elderly and vulnerable relatives from scams and fraud. If you know the signs, you can make your loved ones aware of what to look out for too.  

You can also make it easier for them to stay connected. See if Age UK is running any computer courses near them to help build their confidence online. They also offer support and guidance to help elderly people use the internet safely.

More ways to protect your money

Read more tips and guides on how to keep your money secure on our fraud hub.