Stay Safe While Taking Online Classes

When I started school, the thought of taking classes online was completely foreign to me. After all, isn’t that the point of going to class? Would an online class just be rehashing what is already in the book? No, it turns out. Online classes are just as interactive as a live class, which can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. And since we are a blog that focuses on college safety, we’re going to focus on the potentially dangerous side of online classes. So here are a few things you need to know:

1.) You still have to be careful of the information you provide. I vividly remember the first day of one of my online classes. As is the case with most online classes, professors use the first week for students to get to know each other. You usually post a little about yourself (where you are from, what you are majoring in, what are your plans after graduation, etc.). Thing is though, in a live class, people are aware of what’s happening. No one says, “I take my dog for a walk everyday right outside my house…it’s the yellow one three blocks from here on the left.” In an online class, that does get said. Something along the lines of, “I take my dog for a walk everyday right outside my house. It’s only a couple blocks from the university, so that’s nice.” Just because it’s an online class doesn’t mean there aren’t potential creeps lurking about.

"No one suspects the butterfly..."

2.) Have a real password. You’d be surprised how many people use “Password1!” as their account password. Think it doesn’t matter? Think that there would be no reason to hack into your student account anyway? Think again. Your student account has access to all your homework, test answers and other class information that any lazy student would love to get their hands on. And one they break in, they also have access to other things, like your backup email address. And it really isn’t too tough to break into someone’s email. If they’re like 80% of the population, they use the same password (or some variation of it) for every account (social media, bank…)! Create a real password and guard it with your life.

3.) Stay where there’s a record. In an online class, everything becomes stored as history. So if you and another classmate are getting into a very heated discussion about the latest fossil findings, you can always break off into a personal discussion, but keep it there. Don’t agree to meet at your local coffee house (sure it’s a public place, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning on following you home at the end of the night). Almost all online classes anymore have a chat function, which is just as convenient (okay, close enough) to talking in person. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation because it’s a “classmate.” It’s still a stranger.

Keeping Your Private Things Private at College

College has a funny way of keeping you on your toes. You’re living with people you don’t know (even if you think you do), yet you feel bad for not trusting them. After all, they’re your roommate. If you can trust them enough to sleep in the bed three feet away from you, you should be able to trust them not to steal your mac’n’cheese, right? Not quite. As many experienced college students will tell you, your mac’n’cheese isn’t going to last a week in that house.

And as for more important things, like your computer, your ID, your birth certificate, or even your journal, you’re not going to want to leave those things out in the open. Sure you and your roommates are friends now, but after the first fight she probably isn’t going to hesitate to read your journal, and depending how bad the fight is, even post its contents online. Don’t forget, college is often only one step higher than high school…you need to protect yourself.

1.) Don’t leave your stuff out. It’s rule #1 (on this list and on every other list you will ever read). And why? Because it’s stupid. It’s not too tough to go through someone’s stuff when they have it on display. Even worse, with a certain kind of roommate, it’s like you’re openly tempting them. Put your stuff away.

2.) Write your name on things. If your name isn’t on your things already, you’re just asking for trouble. My sophomore year I had a really expensive pan that I used to cook everything on, and when my roommate moved out she tried to take it, saying it was hers. Her mother even agreed that it was her pan that she got from her mother. Thank God my name was underneath the handle or I would’ve been out a seriously expensive frying pan.

3.) Log your stuff up when you’re not there. Just because you leave the room for a few minutes doesn’t mean something couldn’t go wrong. Password protect everything on your computer, and have a spot you can put things when you leave for longer. A dorm trunk (like this Launcher Trunk) is an awesome (and stylish) way to make sure all your things will stay exactly as you left them.

4.) Have a backup. Backup your files. Your pictures, your music, your papers and assignments (read: the hours and hours and hours you’ve put into your research paper). Starting from scratch would be miserable, and trust me, there’s no better way to get revenge on a roommate than to delete that 12 page paper they’ve been working on for the last 2 weeks.

5.) Don’t brag. It can be tempting to tell everyone about that sweet iPad you got for your birthday, but it’s a bad idea. You never know who might be listening, and you never know who is going to find out. You have no idea who the phrase, “Oh man, you should see my roommate’s new iPad, it’s ridiculous!” could be uttered to.

Don’t forget to visit for dorm trunks, laptop safes and more!

When Your Trusting Personality Becomes Dangerous

As I’ve probably mentioned in previous articles, I’m from a really small town. How small? We my high school had a nine-man football team because we didn’t have enough people to have a full 11-man team, my town is less than a mile long when driving through on the highway, and the picture below was taken in March…of this year.

And yes, that’s a horse tied up out front.

And what’s it like growing up in a small town? Trusting. Everyone knows everyone else, so why would you ever have to worry? That guy walking down the street holding an ax…yeah he’s probably just a logger walking home from a hard day’s work. And I bet he’d love a ride home.

So as soon as I moved to the city (read: anywhere besides my hometown), my trusting nature became downright dangerous. I would’ve been a prime target for someone like Ted Bundy, who used to lure women to his car by pretending to be crippled and needing help with something simple, like loading groceries. I’ve not only given money to homeless people on the side of the road, but I’ve driven them through a fast food drive through and bought them dinner. I’m lucky I wizened up before anytime truly unfortunate happened, but just in case you’re of a similar mindset, here are three things you need to ask yourself before you get into a dangerous situation:

1.) Am I alone? No matter what the situation is, if you’re alone you’re at risk. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to give the stranger who “ran out of gas” a ride to the gas station 2 miles away, but the fact is if you’re all by yourself you need to say no. If you’re with five people, its broad daylight, and you all feel safe with the decision, that’s a different story.

2.) Do I know the person? As childish as it might be, the old rule of “stranger danger” still applies. If someone is asking for a ride or to come into your home to use your phone, say no. You can always call the cops to give them a ride or dial the number yourself.

3.) Is there another option? Yes, there is always another option. Someone knocks on your door asking for a jump because their car broke down? And you don’t know them? And you’re alone? Get a neighbor to help you or call the cops or a tow-truck for assistance. You can still help a person in need, but you don’t have to put yourself in danger in the process.

When in doubt think of this, a quote from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: “It’s funny how the fear of offending is stronger than the fear of pain.” Never let your fear of offending get in your way of making a good decision.

3 Red Flags of Dangerous Prank Callers

Prank calls tend to be one of the more “harmless” acts that people often think of. “It’s just kids fooling around,” they tell themselves. The fact is though, phone harassment is one of the most unreported signs that you could be in danger. So here are a few ways to know if the caller is just some 13 year old kid who’s home alone and bored, or someone with more sinister intentions.

1.) The call is intimidating or frightening. Even I have been guilty of prank calling someone, but it was always along the lines of, “Hello! This is KQTR the number one radio station in the Rockies, and congratulations, you’re our Ice Cream Social Caller of the Month! You’ve got 60 seconds to name 30 ice cream flavors for a chance to win free ice cream for a year! No time to waste, 30 ice cream flavors in 60 seconds, GO!” This is a typical kid messing around. The goal is to get you to make a fool of yourself, and once the prank is complete there’s no use calling you again because you’ll be on to their game.

However, if you’re hearing heavy breathing that’s making you uncomfortable, they begin asking you sexual questions, or they’re simply calling every 10 minutes and hanging up, you might have good reason to worry.

2.) They get around your defenses. A prank caller is typically not going to be very persistent. After all, there are millions of other people they could call, why would they waste extra time with you? Well if you’ve blocked their number, and they call back with another number, it could be a red flag. More severe instances would be if you’ve changed your number and you begin getting phone calls on your new number.

3.) They’re coming closer to home. If they originally started calling your landline and hanging up, and now they’ve moved to calling your cell phone and hanging up, it means they’re not happy with just the landline anymore. When a stalker gets bored of watching you walk to your car after work and begins following you home, it’s considered and “escalation,” and an escalating criminal is not a person you want to be dealing with.

So what do you do?

Call the authorities. Now while others say to call your phone provider first, it’s important to do whatever is safest. If you feel your life is in danger, call the police and while they’re at your house call your phone service provider and see what you can get worked out. It’s also important to track the prank calls as they come in. If someone is calling you every 10 minutes, write down the times of each call and what occurred after every time you answered. This will help authorities determine the seriousness of the situation. It may also be necessary to change your phone number if things become serious. Keep your previous phone line open though, and if the caller continues to call, continue to record each call as evidence.

And above all, remember to never, never, give out any kind of personal information to a prank caller. Even if it is just your favorite flavor of ice cream.

How do you handle prank callers?

Don’t forget to visit for tools to protect yourself at college or at home!

3 Ways to Help a Victim of Domestic Abuse

Sorry to say, but there will probably be a time during your 4 years of college that you meet someone who is dealing with domestic abuse, and it can often be very difficult trying to figure out a way to help without “sticking your nose in their business.”

But before I get on with this article, it should be known that domestic violence is something that hits rather home for me. During my four years of college, I was with a man named…should I use his real name? Ah, screw it. His name was Jason. He was super sweet and charming at first (as they all are), and then things quickly turned violent and twisted.

Now I’d like to say that I ended up saying enough was enough, put my foot down and moved out, never to return, but the truth is that after he’d held me hostage for three days, not letting me leave the house or make any contact with the outside world, my friends showed up while he was at work with a gaggle of people I’d never met and about four pickup trucks. In one hour they moved everything I owned to a new location, including me, in a sloppy incoherent bundle of tears. For the first few months, they paid my rent, my bills, gave me rides back and forth to work, and made sure I didn’t call him when I was lonely (which was all the time). I’m now in an amazingrelationship with someone else, but I can’t help but think of what would have happened had my friends not intervened when they did. In all honesty, I think he would’ve ended up killing me.419614_331610540220169_304695649578325_927941_732762332_n_large

1.) Be supportive and listen.
A common trend with abusers is that they try to convince the victim that they are all alone. The point is create this separate reality where the victim becomes dependent on the abuser, because, as the abuser put it, “Where would you go? You have no friends or family who could take you in. You’re a burden on me and I can barely handle you.” If you suspect a friend is going through a situation like this, the best thing you can do is let them know that they do have places to go and they do have other options. Helping them talk about what they would do if they ever did decide to leave can help them develop a plan for actually doing so.I realize that showing up to someone’s house and forcefully moving them out is probably not an option; so instead, here are some other ways you can help if you suspect someone is dealing with domestic violence.

2.) Consistently try to make contact. Another form of abuse is often isolation. Jason would break my phone and take my keys, making it impossible for me to leave or get ahold of anyone. If you can’t get ahold of your friend then there’s nothing wrong with sending a cop anonymously over to the house (or sending your RA or campus police to the dorm room next to you) to check on them. If everything is fine than the cop just leaves: no report, no arrest; nothing. If something isn’t wrong though, there’s a cop there just in case.

3.) Intervene. And speaking of sending a cop to the house, just do it. I can’t count the number of times I was fearful for my life when one of the neighbors would come by and ask if they should call the cops. Of course we’re going to say no! What is the victim going to do, say “yes” right in front of her abuser? There’s no way! If you hear screaming and fighting and suspect it’s getting overly heated, call the cops!