Practice Internet Street Smarts to protect yourself online

During our daily Google Meet session on April 1, I was telling my mom that I woke up to snow that morning. It reminded me of a late snowfall on March 30, 1987. It was sunny when I walked into the Richfield Coliseum for a Bon Jovi concert (yes, my son would say "Bon who?") and I came out to a snowy parking lot. God won April Fools' Day this year … he gets to have all the fun!

I do reminisce about the early-1990s digital world where computer viruses were more about pulling pranks than ill-gotten gains and racketeering. I often talk about Internet Street Smarts and how good "habits'' are important in minimizing the risk of being victimized on the internet, aka the cloud, while reaping the many benefits of the digital world. This is analogous to how we were practicing good habits in 2020 to thwart COVID-19 by staying home for non-essentials, physically distancing, and wearing a mask.

However, unlike the COVID-19 vaccine that will hopefully lead to herd immunity, there is no silver bullet against the nefarious actors of the digital world. Hence the importance of building good habits.

Many of the habits in my Internet Street Smarts toolkit, which I use when helping seniors discover digital literacy, are trivial. Think of all the things you employ, i.e. habits, to keep a con artist away in the real world but adapted for the digital world to keep the garden variety nefarious actors at bay. Here are some of those habits to nurture:

  1. Do not open/answer unsolicited emails, texts, social media messages, or phone calls.

  2. Verify sender's email address instead of relying on the name displayed.

  3. Do not participate in "chain" email or social media messaging. (No, you won't bring bad luck.)

  4. Discern the language, grammar, spelling, and other nuances in messages to spot imposters pretending to be someone else.

  5. Update operating systems and applications, especially the Swiss Army Knife of the digital world – browsers – when updates become available for any of your devices.

  6. Use unique passwords for each online account, using a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, special symbols, and introducing spelling errors on purpose.

  7. Use encrypted messaging apps like "Signal" instead of regular texting apps when communicating sensitive information.

  8. Review credit card statements and credit reports ( for accuracy and signs of identity misuse.

  9. Immediately change your email password and check for new email forwarding rules if one of your contacts complains of receiving SPAM/phishing emails from your address.

  10. Do not send cash, checks, gift cards or valuables without discussing the matter with family and/or close friends who you trust.

  11. Be cognizant of the tactics employed by the nefarious such as tugging on your empathy, embarrassment, fear and other emotions.

  12. Use websites such as or to keep tabs on whether your email was involved in a data breach and needs a password reset.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with over 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives while using digital literacy as a tool for seniors to avoid loneliness and social isolation

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 10:31 AM, 04.06.2021