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From online dating to online gaming platforms, there are many different opportunities for you to interact with other people online. Despite many advances in technology, the one thing that hasn’t changed when it comes to using the internet is staying safe while you’re chatting with complete strangers or putting personal information online.

When we talk about online chat rooms, we are not talking about group chats or professional therapy sessions, but instead are looking into the phenomenon of anonymous chat rooms where people go to connect with strangers, share stories, and get things off their chest. Especially in an age where we are not going out and socially in-person as often, these have gained momentum and have become quite a popular phenomenon.

Speaking of staying safe with identification and anonymity, there are also many scams that can come along with sharing personal information with strangers online. Staying safe isn’t just for kids, either; adults of all ages fall victim to many different online scams each year. Whether you’re six years old or sixty, there are dozens of ways scammers can target you on the internet, and especially in online chat rooms. Here are the best ways to protect yourself whenever you chat online.

Mask Your Identity In Your Online ID

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One of the basic methods of security and safety while chatting online is to use an ID or username that doesn’t include your real name. For example, instead of having your username say john.smith, use something like harry.potter223. It’s okay to involve your favorite book, movie, character, or sports team–that won’t necessarily identify you the way that your second or last name will.

On top of your online ID or username, be sure not to give any personal information away as you’re chatting. This includes information like your name, date of birth, location, or what school you go to. Be careful not to give away information that might even be answers to security questions that you use on other applications–such as the street name you grew up on, or your mother’s last name. Scammers are constantly and sneakily searching for information that they can use against you.

Keeping an eye out for people who pry about your personal information or are constantly asking more questions to gain a deeper insight into where you live or any identifiable facts is key to saying safe in these chat rooms, as well. It is important to not only mask your identity, but to be wary about the people you are engaging with, and being alert for any signs that this person is using you to get to your personal information.

Keep In Mind Many People Aren’t Who They Say They Are

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A lot of people use pictures alongside their online ID. However, there’s no way to know that the picture matches who the person really is. One of the biggest ways scammers operate is that they pretend to be someone else, whether it’s someone younger or more attractive, or even someone who you know in real life. You can search their image on Google to see if they pulled it from somewhere else on the internet. Trust your instincts as to whether someone seems to be legitimate or not.

There are many shows, such as the Netflix show, The Circle, that touch on concepts like this- catfishing, or pretending to be someone you’re not. It is common to use alias’ and profiles based on a close friend or relative, as scammers can recite information easily and are basing their persona off of a person they know well, which helps them not get caught in a lie. However, it can be hard to spot catfishing, and sometimes watching shows such as the one mentioned above is actually a great way to see the behind-the-scenes of these people’s minds and actions.

Learn How to Take Action if Something Goes Wrong

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A key aspect to protecting yourself in online chat rooms is knowing what to do in case something unsafe or inappropriate happens. In many cases, you can take action to ensure the perpetrator gets in trouble; often you can save a copy of the chat’s conversation or keep it in some way. The first step is to report it. Whether that be on the site you are using, or to go to more intense measures like reporting to federal or local authorities. Taking action is important if you are being harassed, stalked, or feel unsafe at any time.

Computers and mobile phones are capable of taking screenshots, or you might be able to copy and paste the conversation into a document. This is important if you need to report what happened. Otherwise, you may be able to flag or report the person who broke chat room rules. When something goes wrong, you can then have the proof of what was said, when, and how. You should never feel as though you or anyone you love is unsafe and taking measures to report inappropriate behavior can ensure that no one feels this way.

As Soon As You Feel Uncomfortable, Leave

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Many online chat rooms are overseen by moderators. However, this doesn’t mean that they are always safe or that anything inappropriate is taken care of right away. As soon as something happens that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, report the incident, save evidence, and leave the chat; don’t continue to engage, no matter what. Even if you’re feeling comfortable, keep your guard up. Anything can happen–especially in online chat rooms.

Learning to set your own boundaries and walk away from any conversations that are not healthy can help you manage online chat rooms. Whether it is leaving a specific chat, or the platform as a whole, know that there is always a way to get out or shut down your account. Additionally, if you feel as though you might have become addicted or reliant on these online chat rooms, reaching out to a professional can help you work through this addiction. Chat room addictions are common, and you are not alone. Therapy can also help you work through what purpose these chat rooms serve in your life, where the desire stems from, and how to manage the engagement on them in healthy and beneficial ways. If you’d like to learn more about chatting, both online and off, read more articles about it here.