Staying safe online

Using the internet safely

It is very easy to clone a real website, and doesn’t take a skilled developer long to produce a very professional-looking, but malicious site.

Being wary of malicious, criminal or inappropriate websites:

  • Use your instincts and common sense.
  • Check for presence of an address, phone number and/or email contact – often indications that the website is genuine. If in doubt, send an email or call to establish authenticity.
  • Check that the website’s address seems to be genuine by looking for misspellings, extra words, characters or numbers or a completely different name from that you would expect the business to have.
  • Roll your mouse pointer over a link to reveal its true destination, displayed in the bottom left corner of your browser. Beware if this is different from what is displayed in the text of the link from either another website or an email.
  • If there is NO padlock in the browser window or ‘https://’ at the beginning of the web address to signify that it is using a secure link, do not enter personal information on the site.
  • Websites which request more personal information than you would normally expect to give, such as user name, password or other security details IN FULL, are probably malicious.
  • Always get professional advice before making investment decisions. Sites that hype investments for fast or high return – whether in shares or alleged rarities like old wine, whisky or property – are often fraudulent.
  • Be wary of websites which promote schemes that involve the recruitment of others, receiving money for other people or advance payments.
  • Be wary of websites that are advertised in unsolicited emails from strangers.

Phishing emails

Phishing is a scam where criminals typically send emails to thousands of people. These emails pretend to come from banks, credit card companies, online shops and auction sites as well as other trusted organisations. They usually try to trick you into going to the site, for example to update your password to avoid your account being suspended. The embedded link in the email itself goes to a website that looks exactly like the real thing but is actually a fake designed to trick victims into entering personal information.

Top tips for protecting yourself against phishing

  • Never reveal personal or financial data including usernames, passwords, PINs, memorable phrases or ID numbers.
  • Be aware that sender email addresses can be spoofed to appear as if they’re being sent by an organisation or person you know. Even these spoofed addresses can appear authentic when you mouse over/touch them.
  • Always have internet security software loaded, switched on and kept updated on your computer. Download security apps on all your mobile devices too, including Apple.
  • Be very careful that people or organisations you’re supplying payment card or other confidential information to are genuine, and then never reveal passwords.
  • Remember that a genuine bank or other organisation will never ask you for your password via email, text, instant message or phone call.
  • Don’t readily click on links in emails, texts or posts/tweets from unknown sources, this could lead to viruses or your confidential information being compromised.
  • Don’t open email attachments from unknown sources, as they may cause your device to be infected with ransomware, spyware or other malware.
  • Update software and apps when prompted, including operating systems. These often contain security updates that could guard against malware.

Social networking

  • Do not let peer pressure or what other people are doing on these sites convince you to do something you are not comfortable with.
  • Be wary of publishing any identifying information about yourself – either in your profile or in your posts – such as phone numbers, pictures of your home, workplace or school, your address or birthday.
  • Pick a user name that does not include any personal information. For example, “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool” would be bad choices.
  • Set up a separate email account to register and receive mail from the site. That way if you want to close down your account/page, you can simply stop using that mail account. Setting up a new email account is very simple and quick to do using such providers as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or gmail.
  • Use strong passwords.
  • Keep your profile closed and allow only your friends to view your profile.
  • Do not say anything or publish pictures that might later cause you or someone else embarrassment.
  • Never post comments that are abusive or may cause offence to either individuals or groups of society.
  • Be aware of what friends post about you, or reply to your posts, particularly about your personal details and activities.
  • Remember that many companies routinely view current or prospective employees’ social networking pages, so be careful about what you say, what pictures you post and your profile.
  • Don’t post your holiday dates – or family photos while you are away – as social networking sites are a favourite research tool for the modern burglar.
  • Use the privacy features to restrict strangers’ access to your profile. Be guarded about who you let join your network.
  • Be on your guard against phishing scams, including fake friend requests and posts from individuals or companies inviting you to visit other pages or sites.
  • If you do get caught up in a scam, make sure you remove any corresponding likes and app permissions from your account.
  • Ensure you have effective and updated antivirus/anti spyware software and firewall running before you go online.

Illegal material

  • If you come across content that you consider to be illegal such as child abuse images or criminally obscene adult material, you should report this to the Internet Watch Foundation .
  • If you come across content that you consider illegal such as racist or terrorist content, you should report this to the Police.


Sending a sexual text, image or video can be dangerous if shared with the wrong person.

Once you send a message, you’re not in control of what happens to it. Even if it’s posted online we can help. For more information about sexting and keeping children safe you can visit the Childline  website.

What is Sexting?

When people talk about sexting, they usually mean sending and receiving:

  • naked pictures or ‘nudes’
  • ‘underwear shots’
  • sexual or ‘dirty pics’
  • rude text messages or videos.

They can be sent to or from a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or someone you’ve met online.
Sexting can easily happen. Things can go wrong – even when you didn’t mean for them to.

Is Sexting Illegal?

When you’re under 18 it’s against the law for anyone to take or have a sexual photo of you – even if it’s a selfie.

This means that if you pressure someone into taking a photo or you share a sexual photo with someone, you’re breaking the law. The police have the power to decide whether it’s for the best to record what’s happened or to take things further. But the law is there to protect young people, not punish them.

Reporting Sexting or Bullying on Social Media

Video Chat Sites

When using video chat sites like Skype, Omegle and ooVoo, the person you’re talking to can record or screenshot your conversation without your knowledge. Video chat sites can’t delete images or videos that have been screenshotted or recorded. This is because they’re saved directly to the person’s phone or tablet. Check each site’s reporting and blocking functions before you start using it.

Some sites, like Skype, let you report the person if this has happened to you though. You may also be able to block someone so that they cannot talk to you anymore.

Cyber bullying

The Internet has made our lives easier in many ways. We now shop online, keep in touch with friends, pay bills, market our businesses and keep up with current affairs in cyberspace.

Safer NEL Online Safety and Anti Bullying Strategy 2019-2021 (PDF, 826KB)

Bullying that happens online, using social networks, games and mobile phones, is often called cyberbullying. A child can feel like there’s no escape because it can happen wherever they are, at any time of day or night.

For more information on keeping your child safe online you can view the NSPCC website .

What do I do if I am being bullied online?

Sometimes it can seem like cyberbullying will never end. But there are some things you can do to make it stop.

Nobody has to go through online bullying alone. Telling someone you trust could help you report the cyber bullying and give you more confidence to deal with the situation. You could talk to a friend, an adult you trust or one of ChildLine’s trained counsellors.

See Childline Support  for more information.

You can also visit Get Safe Online  for a wide range of information.

Support for safeguarding adults is provided by Focus .

Keeping children safe online

Children are naturally trusting, and this trait can make them vulnerable online. Keeping your kids cyber-safe requires education, open communication and regular monitoring. Teach them about what you do to ensure your own safety on the Internet. Make them aware of the dangers of chatting online to strangers, the need to verify the origins of emails, and what to do if they think they’ve accidentally downloaded a virus.

For more information you can view the Department for Education’s advice for parents and carers on cyber bullying (PDF, 158KB) .