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The internet isn't always as friendly as it may seem. Amid Drake memes and YouTubers silently slurping up their pasta noodles, you might run into some strange—and dangerous—people. And if you engage the wrong person online, you could end up the victim of digital harassment.
Digital harassment is dangerous because it can persist beyond social media and other sites and threaten your identity and personal security. One of the best ways to keep yourself safe online and offline is to make sure your personal information is not freely available to those who want to do you harm. Personal privacy scans can help protect you against digital harassment by finding and removing online information that could put you at risk.
Types of Digital Harassment
Digital harassment may come in several forms, with some more intrusive than others. When attempting to stay safe online, it's important to consider your potential vulnerabilities to:
- Doxxing: Doxxing occurs when someone shares personal details such as your address, phone number or Social Security number—or incriminating or humiliating personal information—with others online with the intent to harass or intimidate. The person may not acquire your information online, but they expose or distribute it there. Doxxing is often used to humiliate, harm or threaten the person whose information is exposed.
- Criminal use of contact information: If you list your phone number or address on a site such as Craigslist, you could face some very real personal security threats, including being contacted or approached by strangers with criminal intent. A scammer could also use your information to commit identity theft and fraud.
- Social media account spoofing: Social media account spoofing happens when a digital harasser or scammer steals photos from a social media site and creates a new profile using the stolen photos. They may do this to get others to accept their invitation to connect, to begin a scam or to simply harass.
- Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is one of the most common forms of digital harassment. This often consists of repeated, unwanted messages or posts meant to harass the target. A cyberbully may use multiple forms of contact, such as text messages or posts and messages from social media accounts, to attack someone. They may also engage others on their behalf to multiply the harassing messages targeting the victim. Cyberbullying most often targets younger online users, but adults can face it as well.
- Swatting: In this rare but distressing form of digital harassment, a person reports to the police that something dangerous—like a hostage situation—is occurring at a specific address. When police or SWAT teams arrive, the unsuspecting victims in the house can face injury or arrest due to the confusion and high tension of the situation. Swatting is typically used as a form of revenge or a joke.
While it may be impossible to guard all of the information that appears about you online, taking extra measures to protect yourself can reduce your risk of digital harassment. A personal privacy scan can be a good way to find out what information about you appears online, and to take steps to reduce it.
What Is a Personal Privacy Scan?
A personal privacy scan is a tool that alerts you to where your personal information appears online and possibly removes it for you. Removing your information from places like people finder sites may preclude some digital harassment by reducing the places where your information appears.
With Experian's personal privacy scan, you can run a one-time free scan to see which data broker and people finder sites may have your personal information. The scan takes just minutes and lists the sites that have posted your personal information. Some of this information may include:
- Your physical address
- Your phone number
- Your age
- Your email address
- Information about your relatives
Using this list, you can contact each site to request that the information be removed. Or you can upgrade your account with Experian to have information automatically removed and to get regular updates when other sites post your information.
More Ways to Protect Your Personal Information
Removing your personal information from the web isn't the only way to protect it. There are other threats to consider when it comes to protecting your personal data whether the threat is digital harassment or identity theft. Here's how you can help protect your information:
- Check your credit report. Scammers may try to use your personal information to open credit in your name. When you monitor your credit, which you can do for free with Experian, you may be able to spot these attempts before they can do serious damage.
- Shred important documents before tossing them. Documents with personal information printed on them may expose you to identity theft if you dispose of them improperly. Make it a habit to shred important documents first.
- Change up your passwords. If you use easy passwords to guess or use a few passwords across all your accounts, you make it easy for hackers to get into your accounts and cause harm. Make sure to vary your passwords across accounts or use a password manager to increase your digital security.
- Protect your personal information. Using certain types of social media may open you up to things like cyberstalking. If you're going to post personal information, be sure to be thoughtful about your added friends list and privacy settings.
Anyone who uses the internet could become a target for digital harassment, but when you use the personal privacy scan to stay on top of your personal information online you may reduce your exposure risks.