Remember, the Internet is a very public global forum. Anything you post is being broadcast to people whose motives may be less than honorable. It's very easy easy to pretend to be any age or gender when hiding behind a screen name so your new best friend Samantha could actually be an ex-con named Sam. Stay safe by using your common sense and following these online safety tips.
1. Choose Your Screen Name and Password CarefullyDon't use your real name or even your nickname. Choose something gender, age, and geography neutral. Change your password often.
2. Be Careful With Personal ProfilesCommercial services offer opportunities for members to list personal data, along with interests and hobbies, so that other members can search for friends with similar interests. Cyberstalkers may, however, use this information to target you. If you feel you must have a profile, be selective in the information included.
3. Be Aware of Your Sig FilesAnother potential problem area are signature files that you set up to appear automatically at the end of your messages. Check your sig file for anything that you might not want a potential cyberstalker to see.
Email headers allow for the tracking of where an email originated from. It is very easy to fake an email and make it appear to have come from a different source than it actually did. Checking the headers allows you to spot the fakes.
You may consider using an anonymous re-mailer for your e-mail or an anonymous web browser such as the Anonymizer which shields your identity from others.
6. Watch What You SayDo not be too quick to share personal information, including in e-mail. Think twice before revealing your name, address, telephone, where you live or work, and names of parents, spouse, children and friends.
Your phone number could be used to learn where you live. Ask for theirs instead and give them a call. You can check that number through a reverse lookup service such as AnyWho to confirm their identity before you call. You should always talk by telephone at least once and preferably many times before agreeing to meet anyone in person. Make sure to make your initial meetings public--and let the person know that you are telling others when and where you will meet.
Download the GNU Privacy Guard, free PGP software that allows you to send e-mail without fear that prying eyes can read what you say. You send your encrypted messages and your personal PGP key to the person you authorize to read the e-mail, and they use that key to de-code it. It requires extra effort, but it is better to be safe than sorry.