Mind the Gap!
Separating Fact from Fiction and Not Getting Phished
It’s no secret that the information superhighway is packed with false turns, bad roads, and dead ends. Rumors spread quickly, and urban legends, misinformation, and disinformation abound, especially on social media and other online sources.
Remember, in the wise words of Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
In seeking information, keeping ourselves safe, responding to emergencies, and living in our electronic world, let’s remember to choose wisely! It is important to know how to find reliable and factual information to guide our attitudes and decisions for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
This article from the University of California Merced (a reliable source!), Web Evaluation & News Sources: Reputable News Sources, includes these characteristic of reputable news outlets:
- Publishes accurate content; checks facts, and if errors are made, corrects them
- Uses reputable sources (people, documentation) and verifies those sources
- Presents headlines that accurately represent the article content; headlines don't play on readers' emotions
- Clearly identifies authors of articles with bylines
- Clearly identifies content types (e.g. report vs. editorial/opinion)
- Employs journalists who follow the profession's code of ethics
The UC Merced site also provides guidance to determine if a source is reputable, including:
- Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources. Example: abcnews.com.co.
- Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
- Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
- Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
- If the story makes you really angry it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
- If the website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news. DOX refers to publishing an individual's personal information with the intent of causing harm.
- Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
A lot of what you read may fall in the category of opinion, rather than fact or legitimate news. For example, in addition to the wide-open platforms available online and in print to anyone who knows how to use them, some news organizations also allow bloggers to post under their banner, and many of these posts do not go through the same editing and verification processes. A good practice is to check to see what category the article falls under, and if possible, research the author.
Sorting fact from opinion is not necessarily easy. This analysis of a study from the Pew Research Center, Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News reveals the challenges we face in today’s fast-paced and changing information environment. The study, which measured the American public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of those surveyed correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But, the analysis points out, this result is only a little better than random guesses, and far fewer got all five correct.
When searching online for articles and information, or going through a Facebook or Twitter feed, look carefully at the source, either in the web address, or in the posting information. Rely on information and updates from recognized local outlets such as The Santa Cruz Sentinel, or nationally, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other recognized publications. While relying on random Facebook and Twitter stories can be misleading or dangerous, legitimate news institutions, as well as many agencies such as the County of Santa Cruz and the Sheriff’s Office have social media sites that can be relied on.
In an emergency, be sure you are getting the latest accurate information by registering to receive alerts and warnings (scroll to the end of this article for info), and checking reliable news on television and radio, if available.
You can also visit our Local Media Resources page, which includes links to television stations such as KSBW and KION, (including Facebook and Twitter links) as well as the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and listings for radio stations.
Stay Safe Online through Cybersecurity
Yes, there are crooks who are out to get you online! Learn how to thwart them.
Cybersecurity involves preventing, detecting, and responding to cyberattacks that can have wide ranging effects on the individual, organizations, the community, and the nation. Cyberattacks are malicious attempts to access or damage a computer system. Cyberattacks can lead to loss of money, theft of personal information, and damage to your reputation and safety.
Cyberattacks can occur through computers, mobile phones, gaming systems, and other devices. They can include identity theft, could block your access or delete your personal documents and pictures, and can target children. They can also cause problems with business services, transportation, power, and other infrastructure.
Protect Yourself Against a Cyberattack
- Keep software and operating systems up-to-date.
- Use strong passwords
- 12 characters or longer
- Upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters
- Use a password manager
- Use stronger verification such as Two-Step Authentication. This can include using a PIN or password that only you would know, or a separate device that can receive a code or uses a biometric scan (e.g., fingerprint scanner).
- Watch for suspicious activity (phishing--more about this below)
- asks you to do something right away
- offers something that sounds too good to be true
- needs your personal information
- When in doubt, don't click.
- Check your account statements and credit reports regularly.
- Use encrypted (secure) internet communications.
- Use sites that use https if you access or provide any personal information. Do not use sites with invalid certificates.
- Regularly back up your files in an encrypted file or encrypted file storage device.
- Protect your home and/or business WiFi network with antivirus and malware solutions and firewalls to block threats.
- Limit the personal information you share online.
- Review and change privacy settings if necessary.
- Do not use location features.
- Protect your home network by changing the administrative and Wi-Fi passwords regularly. When configuring your router, choose the Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) setting, which is the strongest encryption option.
Don’t Take the Bait!
A special note about phishing. Phishing is one of the most dangerous methods of cyber crime. It involves emails, texts, or calls that seem to be from companies or people you know, but they are actually from scammers. They want you to click on a link or give personal information, including a password, so that they can steal your money or your identity, or gain access to your computer. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 32 percent of all cyber attacks involved phishing.
Phishing emails and text messages may look like they’re from a company you know or trust. They may look like they’re from a bank, a credit card company, a social networking site, an online payment website or app, or an online store.
- Scammers use familiar company names or pretend to be someone you know.
- They ask you to click on a link or give passwords or bank account numbers. If you click on the link, they can steal your personal information or install programs to lock you out of your computer.
- They pressure you to act now, often threatening that something bad will happen if you don't.
- Watch this short video, What is Phishing and How Do I Protect Myself, from AARP, to learn more.
Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. They may
- Say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts
- Claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information
- Say you must confirm some personal information
- Include a fake invoice
- Want you to click on a link to make a payment
- Say you’re eligible to register for a government refund
- Offer a coupon for free stuff or say you have won something
- No legitimate bank, government agency, or business would call or send an email requesting that you discuss or enter your private information
- Misspellings, poor grammar, and typos are also good indicators of phishing
- Watch out for extra or odd characters in the URL (web address) or sender’s email address
- Even if a link has a name yu recognize somewhere in it, it doesn't mean it links to the real organization. Rll your mouse over the link and see if it matches what appears in the email. If there is a discrepancy, don't click on the link.
- Example: paypal.ssecure.server.de (will take yu where you don’t want to go)
- Websites where it is safe to enter personal information begin with "https" — the "s" stands for secure. If you don't see "https" do not proceed.
- Watch out for a generic greeting. Phishing emails are usually sent in large batches. Internet criminals use generic names like "First Generic Bank Customer." If you don't see your name, be suspicious.
If You Have Been Cyberattacked
How Will You Get Emergency Alerts and Warnings?
CodeRed: SCR 9-1-1 encourages all of Santa Cruz and San Benito county residents to register their cell phones and VOIP phones with CodeRED. CodeRED is the alerting system used for public safety events in both counties. If you need to be told to evacuate, shelter in place, or prepare for an event, CodeRED is how the message is delivered.
Step 1: Go to www.scr911.org to register. Once completed add 866-419-5000 to your contacts so you know when SCR9-1-1 is calling you.
Step 2: Download the CodeRED app to your smart phone. If an event occurs in proximity to your smart phone, you will be notified through the app. Be sure to "always allow" your location to be known for this app.
And now available as an app for your phone!
The CodeRED Mobile Alert app provides advanced, real-time, location-specific alerts to keep residents and visitors informed and safe as they travel across the United States and Canada. Messages can include text and audio and feature a map with the location of the warning area.
Click here to download the CodeRED Mobile Alert app for either iOS or Android.
Nixle is a free notification service that keeps you up-to-date about emergency weather events, road closings, public safety advisories, disasters, and other relevant information from public safety departments and schools. Click here to sign up for alerts from local agencies. If you live or work in different counties, or if you have relatives or friends in other areas from which you want to receive information, you can sign up for alerts in other areas.
READY, SET, GO Campaign
CAL FIRE has developed a communications program called “Ready, Set, Go!” that breaks down the actions needed to be ready for wildfire or any emergency.
Download the app and you can create a plan right from your phone or computer
Click the images below for resources and information.