Do the zeros and ones of computer code turn a person you’ve never met into a real friend, a true confident, or a trusted source? No they don’t.

Sadly, many of us know someone who has garnered human feelings about a digital entity they have never met in person and as a result shared sensitive information. That is fine if they’re a colleague in an overseas bureau, or person you have verified with a trusted source, like your editor or another reporter.

But it’s important to remember cyber criminals use online chat features to prey on trusting individuals. Sometimes we might unknowingly find ourselves on fraudulent websites while researching a story. When you’re on these websites you automatically become the target of digital predators because they can monitor your presence and launch pop-up chat windows.

And it’s not just on fraudulent websites where you can become the target of cyber crime. Sometimes, predators will spend months gaining your trust through special interest chat rooms that you may frequent while reporting a story.

Remember: Always treat pop-up windows and chat rooms with suspicion. Just like in real life, cyberspace is full of sources whose stories don’t check out.

And never share any personal information— like a name, birthday or address via a pop-up chat box. If you wouldn’t share this information with a new source that suddenly approaches you on the street, why are you allowing it to happen in cyberspace?

Successful digital reporting starts with smart digital choices.

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