10 Tips for Safer Instant Messaging

Last week I talked about 10 Tips for Safer Chatting and I received dozens of emails from parents saying "my kids tell me they don't chat anymore, but I see them IM'ing all the time, are the safety tips the same?" The answer: No. Communicating using an instant messaging (IM) program has unique security and privacy risks that you need to be aware of, both for you and your kids too!

10 Safety Tips for Instant Messaging:

1. Never open pictures, download files, or click links in messages from people you don't know. If they come from someone you do know, confirm with the sender that the message (and the attachment) is trustworthy. If it's not, close the instant message.

2. Be careful when creating a screen name. Each IM program asks you to create a screen name, which is similar to an email address. Your screen name should not provide or allude to personal information. For example, use a nickname such as SingerSue instead of SyracuseSue.

3. Create a barrier against unwanted instant messaging. Do not list your screen name or email address in public areas (such as large Internet directories or online community profiles) or give them to strangers.

Some IM services link your screen name to your e-mail address when you register. The easy availability of your e-mail address can result in your receiving an increased number of spam and phishing attacks.

4. Never, ever provide sensitive personal information, such as your credit card numbers or passwords, in an IM conversation.

5. Only communicate with people who are on your contact or buddy lists.

6. If you decide to meet a stranger that you know only from IM communication, take appropriate safety precautions. For example, do not meet that person alone, (take a friend or parent with you), and always meet and stay in a public place, such as a cafe.

7. Don't send personal or private instant messages at work. Your employer might have a right to view those messages.

8. If you use a public computer, do not select the feature that allows you to log on automatically. People who use that computer after you may be able to see and use your screen name to log on.

9. Monitor and limit your children's use of IM.

10. When you're not available to receive messages, be careful how you display this information to other users. For example, you might not want everyone on your contact list to know that you're "Out to Lunch."

Referred to by many as the "coolest way to communicate online since email" you can now use a service like Meebo or Trillion to connect with people who use all kinds of different IM services like MSN, Yahoo, AOL, MySpace, Facebook, Google Talk, and many more! Download Meebo and Trillion IM programs here ;-)