The social networking phenomenon has millions of Americans sharing their photos, pastimes and details about their class reunions on Facebook, Twitter and dozens of similar sites. You can certainly enjoy networking and sharing photos, but you should know that sharing some information puts you at risk. Experts advise there are some personal details you should never reveal.
• Your full birth date. It’s an ideal target for identity thieves, who could use it to obtain more information about you and potentially gain access to your bank or credit card account. If you’ve already entered a birth date, go to your profile page and click on the Info tab, then on Edit Information. Under the Basic Information section, choose to show only the month and day or no birthday at all. A study done by Carnegie Mellon showed that a date and place of birth could be used to predict most — and sometimes all — of the numbers in your Social Security number.
• Vacation plans. That’s like putting a “no one’s home” sign on your door. Wait until you get back to tell everyone how awesome your vacation was and be vague about the date of any trip. Don’t invite criminals in by telling them specifically when you’ll be gone.
• Home address. A study recently released by the Ponemon Institute (which does independent research on privacy, data protection and information security policy) found that users of social media sites were at greater risk of physical and identity theft because of the information they were sharing. Forty percent listed their home address on the sites, 65 percent didn’t even attempt to block out strangers with privacy settings, and 60 percent said they weren’t confident all their “friends” were really people they know.
• Confessions. You may hate your job, lie on your taxes, or be a recreational user of illicit drugs, but this is no place to confess. Employers commonly peruse social networking sites to determine who to hire and, sometimes, who to fire. One study done last year estimated that 8 percent of companies fired someone for “misuse” of social media.
• Password clues. If you’ve got online accounts, you’ve probably answered a dozen different security questions, telling your bank or brokerage firm your mother’s maiden name; the church you were married in; or the name of your favorite song. Got that same stuff on the information page of your Facebook profile? You’re giving crooks an easy way to guess your passwords.
• Risky behaviors. You like to soar above the hills in a hang glider, or smoke like a chimney? Insurers are increasingly turning to the web to figure out whether their applicants and customers are putting their lives or property at risk.
• Your child’s name in a caption. Don’t use a child’s name in photo tags or captions. If someone else does, delete it by clicking on Remove Tag. If your child isn’t on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name.
Common mistakes include:
• Having a weak password. Avoid simple names or words you can find in a dictionary, even with numbers tacked on the end. Instead, mix upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. A password should have at least eight characters. Better yet, 12 characters – not 11 or 13. Experts say 12 is the best. One good technique is to insert numbers or symbols in the middle of a word.
• Overlooking useful privacy controls. For almost everything in your Facebook profile, you can limit access to only your friends, friends of friends, or yourself. Restrict access to photos, birth date, religious views, and family information, among other things. You can give only certain people or groups access to items such as photos, or block particular people from seeing them. Consider leaving out contact info, such as phone number and address, since you probably don’t want anyone to have access to that information anyway.
• Letting search engines find you. To help prevent strangers from accessing your page, go to the Search section of Facebook’s privacy controls and select Only Friends for Facebook search results. Be sure the box for public search results isn’t checked.
• Permitting youngsters to use Facebook unsupervised. Facebook limits its members to ages 13 and over, but children younger than that do use it. If you have a young child or teenager on Facebook, the best way to provide oversight is to become one of their online friends. Use your e-mail address as the contact for their account so that you receive their notifications and monitor their activities.