Staying Safe Online

Your Students' Union Advice Service is a free, independent and confidential service for all students.

Safer Socialising and Recreation

The internet has made it easier than ever to meet new people, research new topics and purchase new things. It has also made it easier than ever for people to access you and your details whilst not having your best interest at heart.


Scammers are people who make their money using illegal methods, usually by tricking you into giving them your bank or credit card details. They may also steal personal data such as your phone number to distribute to other scammers, making it more likely for you to be scammed again in the future.

A common way for scammers to trick you into handing over your details is through ‘phishing.’ This is when criminals use fake emails, texts, or phone calls to trick people, usually into visiting websites that will give your device a virus or help them steal your personal details. ‘Email spoofing’ is a particularly common form of phishing.

A spoof is an email that’s dressed up to look like it comes from an official person or place but is actually written and sent by a scammer. The hope is it will persuade you to respond by following the instructions in the email which will more often than not lead criminals straight to your most sensitive information. You can avoid being caught out with a ‘spoof email’ by:

  • Double checking the sender’s name and email address. If you receive an email ending in ‘,’ it’s easy to assume this is an email from your university. But look closely. Does the email address have an unusual amount of random numbers and letters? Is the name in the email address different to the name on the signature? If you hit ‘reply,’ is the address you’re replying to different to the address that it’s come from? All of these are signs that the email is not from who it says it is.
  • Double checking the emails contents. Treat that email like it’s an assignment you’re soon to be handing in. scan it for spelling or grammatical mistakes. Is it written in full sentences and is the tone formal or informal? Is it addressed directly to you by name, or something more generic like dear sir/madame? Emails that are not polished, professional, or addressed to you directly should be raising your suspicions.
  • Double check what the email is asking you to do. If the email is asking you for money or to hand over banking details or personal information such as date of birth or copy of ID, stop and think. This is particularly true if they have given you a link to click in order to send over the information, or their tone is particularly urgent or pressurizing. No official company or organisation should ever ask you to send over personal or identifiable information this way, and certainly shouldn’t use pressure tactics to rush you into doing so.

Useful Tip: you can use the official UK governments scam reporting email address,, to forward any scam emails you get. You can also forward suspicious text messages to 7726. This won’t provide you with personal assistance around scams but will help the government realise the scale of the problem and should hopefully help them take action to stop it in the future.


Shopping online is easy, convenient, and can sometimes even lead to some great bargains. It can also lead to much more than you bargained for. Easy dos and don’ts to consider to protect yourself whilst shopping online include:

  • Do your research. The internet has made it really easy for small businesses to increase their profits and extend their reach to a wider audience. Buying small or independent is a great thing to do – but it’s always worth checking before you tap that ‘pay now’ button. Does the company or person you are buying from have information on who they are and their backstory? If you google their name, will you find them? Do they have positive reviews? If none of these apply, it may be worth thinking again to save yourself from at best receiving a product that is much lower quality than you paid for and at worst not receiving the product you paid for at all. Another red flag is if the company or person you are buying from cannot provide you with written confirmation of their refunds or returns policy. If you receive an email or a message telling you to click a link for an amazing deal or discount, don’t do it! This is a common tactic scammers use to either steal your details or leave your electronic devices vulnerable to viruses.
  • Don’t save your details. When you fill out a payment form online your browser will often give you the option to save or autofill your details next time. As tempting as this may be, the fewer copies of your card and personal details that are out there the better. If you use a certain retailor regularly and so want to save your details for ease, see if you can set up notifications on your account so you will be immediately notified if money is taken without you knowing.
  • Don’t pay by bank transfer. Avoid paying a company or individual by bank transfer when buying goods. Paying via bank transfer directly means that you are not covered by the same consumer rights and protection that paying with a card or through a payment platform such as PayPal provides. This means that if you pay and then the product or service is not delivered, there isn’t a lot if anything that your bank can do to get you your money back.


The world of social media can be a great place to keep in touch with friends, meet new people and share your best moments. It can also make it easy for unwanted people to find you. take note of the following tips to help your socials experiences be nothing but positive:

  • Be careful what you post. What goes on the internet stays on the internet! Even with the most private of privacy settings, things that you post can be easily duplicated through copy paste, screenshots, or downloads - even by people you think you know and trust. If it’s something you don’t want the whole world to know about, it’s probably best not to post it at all. Remember that potential employers may also go and look through your social media accounts to see whether they think you would make a good candidate, so stop and think before you share that controversial opinion or make that post saying that you skipped work to go out with your mates.
  • Beware when publishing your location. It’s natural to want to share what an amazing time you’re having with your social networks. But posting pictures or information of your location in real time can leave you very vulnerable. Not only does it make it much easier for strangers to identify and find you, but it also advertises that you are not at home, leaving an open door to professional criminals who are looking for an easy opportunity. Many platforms offer a ‘geolocation’ option, which attaches a location to your post when you make one. This means you can be sharing your location whenever you create a post without even realising. Make sure to review your location settings and turn ‘geolocation’ off when posting to avoid this from happening. Then you’ll be free to enjoy the moment!
  • Be on the lookout. Great friendships and relationships can start online, but it’s always worth remembering that not everyone wants to be your friend, even if they say they do. There are billions of people hiding behind screens, meaning there is a chance you may run into someone that doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Whether you are bonding with a new friend over a mutual interest or looking for that perfect match on a dating app, stay alert for the vital signs that things may not be as they seem. Are they asking you to give personal information or information that can be used to identify you? Do they suddenly have an urgent problem that they need your help with? Are they asking for money, even if it’s the smallest amount? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ you could be one step closer to finding the fake or calling out the catfish. Even if you think you trust them and really want to help, never give an individual any details they could use to identify you or take from you. This includes personal details such as name, date of birth and home address and financial details such as account number, credit card details or details of what you earn or how much you have in your account. If their true intention is to be your friend, they won’t pressure you for these things.

Safer Electronic Devices

Whether it’s a tablet, smart phone or computer, electronic devices are a daily part of living your best life. Therefore, it’s just as important to make sure that the device you are using is as safe as the things you are using it for.

  • Secure it. Antivirus software. It’s good to have security software in order to protect your device from unwanted viruses, which can infect it, damaging or deleting your files, slowing down your device’s performance, or even stealing your personal data. This is particularly relevant if you use a laptop or computer. Most computers will come with good basic antivirus software such as Windows Defender for a Microsoft computer and XProtect for an Apple Mac. These basic forms of defence are free with your devices so making sure they’re always turned on is a good start. Downloading additional antivirus that has more comprehensive features is also recommended. You can get basic free versions of ones like AVG Antivirus Free – with paid subscriptions available should you want even more advanced features. Be sure to check sites such as Totum, UniDays and Student Beans to find a cheeky student discount or two.
  • Protect it. Pick a good password. Passwords will only protect you if they’re hard to figure out. Ideally, your password should have a minimum of 15 characters, and contain at least one uppercase letter, one number, and one special character (such as @, or ?). A passphrase that consists of a few words put together can actually be more secure than a random string of numbers and letters. It’s also much easier to remember. For example, a good passphrase would be ‘monk3yPapercleaner!’ – although don’t’ use this one!
  • Avoid unsecured networks. These are Wi-Fi networks that don’t require you to enter any password or signup information in order to access them. These are most commonly found in public spaces that provide free Wi-Fi to their customers – such as cafes. Unsecured networks can be dangerous as they allow hackers to easily access anything you connect to through the network, such as what you’re browsing on the internet, any passwords you input to login to websites (however secure they may be), and your social media accounts. Taking advantage of a free unsecured network is giving hackers a free pass to steal your identity, infect your device with malware, blackmail you by stealing your sensitive information before making you pay them so they don’t release it for anyone to see, or even gain remote control of your device. Long story short, avoid any free public network that doesn’t require you to sign up or sign into it.
  • Take care on secure public networks. Free public networks that require you to enter a password or create an account in order to access them are usually secure and all right to use. But it still pays to be careful. While out and about on public networks consider turning off ‘file sharing’ and leaving those tasks that require you to access sensitive information (such as logging into your bank account) until you get home. On the web, be sure to always stick to website addresses beginning ‘https.’ the ‘s’ at the end stands for ‘secure,’ meaning that the address transmits data in an encrypted form instead of in plain text – so people can’t read the data that you’re sending and receiving when using the internet. If you have good antivirus protection you may want to take advantage of its virtual private network (VPN) feature. A VPN will encrypt and mask your data, including your browsing history, location, passwords, device details, and more, making you completely anonymous while using a public network.

Resources and Further Support

The SU Finance Pages: a whole host of information on financial matters including online scams.

The National Cyber Security Centre: A huge hub of useful information as part of the UK government website.

Softw4Students: A good website to find legitimate software the website searches for software that has student pricing plans or discounts.

The Action Fraud website. For official information and support in fraud cases.

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