Everything you need to know to browse safely, pay safely and avoid scams online in this day and age.
Internet safety is a balancing act between security and ease of use. Nobody wants to jump through too many hoops every time they go online. But we also want to avoid scams, viruses and malware.
Take internet safety and privacy seriously
The internet is as rich and varied as the world itself. Yes, it can be informative, fun and rewarding. And it can also be dark and dangerous, so it pays to be cybersmart and take internet safety and privacy seriously. While we often think of online criminals as hackers who attack computers, the reality is that most attacks target people. This was clear during the Covid-19 pandemic. Cyber security specialist Purplesec says cybercrime has gone up 600% as criminals took advantage of people’s fears to trick them into clicking on links. Ofcom, the regulator in charge of internet safety in the UK, warned that “an increase in screen time has resulted in a significant upward trend in online abuse”. This is why it’s also important to keep kids safe online. Watch what they’re doing, make sure they browse safely and stay alert.
Are internet safety and internet privacy the same thing?
Yes and no. There is no such thing as internet safety without internet privacy — the two go hand in hand. Keeping yourself and your family safe from bad actors on the internet starts with strong privacy and online data protection. It’s not so different to what we do in the real world. Locked doors offer privacy and safety. If they are unlocked or easily picked, we can lose both. You should take the same approach online. Browse safely, pay safely, avoid scams and protect your data.
A password manager is one of the simplest steps to improve your internet safety and can even make using the internet easier — a rare case where security doesn’t mean extra hoops to jump through.
3 billion records
540 million records
500 million records
250 million records
200 million records
This is why it’s important to use a strong password on every website and app. And this is where password managers are helpful. They can remember all your passwords, come up with new ones and safely store other important data such as credit cards, driving licences and anything else you might need to enter online.
Online ads can be so specific that some people think their smartphones are listening to them. Perhaps they are, but it’s more likely that your browser is doing the snooping. Big tech companies offer their services for free in return for tracking everything you do online. This helps them charge more for ads.
While many people don’t mind this trade-off, you don’t have to give up your internet privacy just to surf the web. Google’s Chrome is the most popular web browser for good reasons. It works well for most people and has a bunch of extensions and all the latest features. But some people find it creepy that Google keeps your search history forever.
There are many other open-source browsers that work just as well, let you browse safely and have stronger online data protection.
Popular browsers for internet privacy
Brave is a browser that’s focused on internet privacy and can help you browse safely on both mobile and desktop. It blocks ads and trackers by default and comes with a bunch of top privacy features, such as its own private search engine and Tor client. It’s also based on Chrome, so many of the most popular Google extensions will also work on it.
One of the most popular browsers on the web and still a great choice for browsing safely on mobile and desktop. Firefox is actively developed, built on open-source code and can be set up with strong protections. You need to turn off some features for improved internet privacy and install extensions like uBlock Origin to block ads and scripts.
For Apple users, the default Safari browser is the best of the Big Tech options. The company makes so much money from selling devices that it can afford to offer slightly better internet privacy. Safari limits tracking, stops social media widgets from snooping on you and limits what websites can see about your device.
DuckDuckGo started as a privacy-focused search engine, then launched a mobile browser and is now working on a no-nonsense desktop browser with privacy enabled by default. The company says it’s not a “privacy browser” but an everyday browsing app that respects your privacy without complicated settings.
Private browsing isn’t private
Many people are surprised to find out that private browsing isn’t an internet privacy feature in most browsers. It turns off your search history (kind of) and blocks cookies. Search engines, websites, ads and trackers can still see your IP address, which means that Google and its customers still know what you’re doing.
VPNs are often recommended as a solution, but most VPN companies are even more secretive than Google or your internet provider. Can you trust a company when you don’t even know who owns it? Probably not. The best option is to take control of your own internet privacy. Browse safely with a browser that respects its users and offers real online data protection.
Do you browse safely? Take our quiz to find out.
Not using safe online payment methods is one of the biggest risks on the internet. Fraud on online shopping and auctions sites in the UK cost £77 million in financial losses in 2021, according to chargeback firm Payback. To avoid adding to this statistic, always pay safely:
- Credit cards can protect you from online fraud. Zero liability policies guarantee that you won’t be responsible for any unauthorised payments made using your card details.
- Paypal is also a good option to pay safely online. Its buyer protection programme will reimburse you for the full purchase price and shipping costs of any item that doesn’t arrive or isn’t what you ordered.
These are both safe online payment methods, but they’re not private. For better internet privacy there are several safe online payment methods you can use without a bank account or credit card. Some of these offer fully anonymous transactions, such as prepaid credit cards. These don’t require sharing personal or banking details and can be bought with cash — the most anonymous payment method of all. You can also buy them online using PayPal, which gives you both the benefits of internet safety and internet privacy. While many prepaid cards can be used wherever you can use a credit or debit card, some don’t offer the same buyer protections. However, one thing is certain – with so many prepaid credit cards out there, there’s one that fits all your internet safety and privacy needs.
Top up your prepaid credit cards within seconds, using the payment method and currency of your choice. Always instantly delivered to your inbox.
Pay using shopping gift cards
Considering the vulnerability of online business to being hacked, a good step towards internet safety and privacy could be to minimise the amount of online places that have your banking details. You can do that by shopping online with a gift card as a payment method. This way even if your account information is leaked, at least you won’t have credit card information on record. Shopping gift cards are available for many retailers including Amazon, Zalando, or even Just Eat or Uber.
Use burner email addresses for added privacy
There’s no point going to such lengths to be anonymous and then handing out your real email address every time you sign up for a website. Using a burner email is a good way to protect your internet privacy.
Thankfully, most scams are obvious and easy to avoid. Ofcom said recently that 45 million people in the UK got a scam call in the past year. That means most of us safely ignore them. But scammers are getting better all the time.
Some common scams to watch for
- Unofficial payment methods – Sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace offer payment protections, so scammers will ask you to use a payment method outside the site. Then you will never hear from them again. Be cybersmart: Ignore sellers who don’t accept safe online payment methods.
- Phishing – In a common example, you’ll get a text message that claims to be from a delivery company. They’ll ask you to click a link to re-arrange delivery of a missed shipment. This leads to a fake website that will ask you to enter personal information. Be cybersmart: Don’t click links in text messages unless you know the sender.
- Friend in need – A WhatsApp scam where the scammer poses as a friend. They say they’ve lost their phone and desperately need cash. Be cybersmart: Ask to speak to them before sending any money.
- Online dating – This tends to be a long scam. The scammer is usually overseas and will gain the trust of their victim over weeks or months. Then they will ask for money to pay for medical treatment or to come and visit. Be cybersmart: Never send money to people you don’t know.
- Fake antivirus software – “Your computer is infected with 27 viruses!” You’ve probably seen these ads. They ask you to download free software to scan your computer but it’s usually some kind of malware. Be cybersmart: Only trust reputable antivirus companies.
- Tech support – This one usually starts with a phone call from someone who claims to be tech support for an internet provider or other big tech company. They will direct you to a website and ask you to download some software that lets them control your computer remotely. Be cybersmart: No real company will ask you to download software over the phone.
What can you do to avoid scams
Be suspicious of any unexpected contact by post, phone call, text message or email. Get in touch with the company directly if you are unsure. When shopping online, protect yourself and avoid scams by using safe online payment methods. Use prepaid cards for transactions where you want internet privacy and PayPal when you want payment protection. Learn more about how to recognise an online scam here.
What can you do to report scams
In the UK, you can report fraud cyber crime to the police through Action Fraud.