Instant messaging (IM) has some of the same security and privacy risks as e-mail, but there are a few unique dangers that you should be aware of.
- Choose a nonidentifiable, non-gender specific screen name.
- Never give out any personal information using IM. That means your real name, telephone or cell phone number[s], mailing address, passwords, banking details, etc.
- Never accept files or downloads from people you don't know or from people you do know if you weren't expecting them. This includes URLs.
- Never arrange to meet someone offline that you only know through IM conversations.
- 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 its attachments) is trustworthy. If it's not, close the instant message.
- Be careful when creating a screen name. Each IM program asks you to create a screen name, which is similar to an e-mail address. Your screen name should not provide or allude to personal information.
- Create a barrier against unwanted instant messaging. Do not list your screen name or e-mail 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.
- Never provide sensitive personal information, such as your credit card numbers or passwords, in an IM conversation.
- Only communicate with people who are on your contact or buddy lists.
- 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.
- Don't send personal or private instant messages at work. Your employer might have a right to view those messages.
- 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.
- Monitor and limit your children's use of IM. One way to do this is to sign up for Windows Live Family Safety. If you use Windows Vista, it comes with parental controls built-in.
- 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."