“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
From “Romeo and Juliet“, by William Shakespeare
The creation of a username (or user ID) for any online service or account is often overlooked as a topic of Internet safety. Although the username you create for your bank’s web site may not be viewed by many people, your email, social network, and instant message (AKA “IM“) usernames will be viewed by dozens, hundreds, or maybe thousands of people (depending on your popularity online and/or the openness of the service).
When choosing a username it’s best to not take any chances. Crooks, predators, fraudsters, scammers… anyone with ill intentions might be able to wedge their way into your life to cause problems. There are 3 types of personal information found in many usernames that might be useful to the bad guys, which we’ll discuss below.
Note: In the sections below we use various usernames as examples. These are not intended to be the usernames of actual people, and any similarity is purely coincidental.
This is especially important for children, as their usernames can be displayed to all kinds of unsavory characters online, from sexual predators to cyberbullys. When helping your child select a username for themselves, be careful not to reveal their age.
Here are some examples of age-defining usernames:
- Little15 Shows the age of the user.
- Bobby1997 The full year of the users birth.
- Kewl95Dude The partial year of the users birth.
Area codes, city/county names, zip codes, phone prefixes… there are many ways to give a crook or scammer information on where you live. Remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail“? Tom Hanks’ character used his building number in his username (“NY152”). Rich guy, building in his username… there’s some quick and easy info for a baddie to pick up on. Don’t be that guy (or gal).
Here are some examples of location-defining usernames:
- Alice90210 The zip code of the user
- Derrick212 The area code of the user
- KingCoKyle The county of the user. (e.g. “King County”)
Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s easier to identify people when you know more things about them. If, for example, someone wanted to cyber-stalk you, it would be easier to pick you out in a crowd if they could eliminate half of the group by only looking for one sex vs. the other.
Here are some examples of gender-defining usernames:
A few things to note
We’re detailing suggestions, not absolutes. If you’re 87 years old and decide that HappyGramps87 is the username for you, then you’ll probably be fine since age is much more of an issue for children. And, of course, there are things that shouldn’t need to be said like putting things like your PIN or Social Security number in your username. Just use your best judgment and do what you think is right. And safe.