When most people think about privacy and security online, it’s in the context of protecting children from sexual predators. While this issue is of great concern, it’s not as prevalent a problem as online identity theft and fraud. Younger generations are more susceptible to identity theft than older generations. College students are 27% more likely to get their identity stolen (more than twice as likely as Americans ages 50 to 59).

Social media sites generate revenue with targeted advertising, based on personal information. As such, they encourage registered users to provide as much information as possible. With limited government oversight, industry standards or incentives to educate users on security, privacy and protecting your identity, users are exposed to identity theft and fraud. On a related note, Google recently patented an algorithm to rate individual’s influence within social media. Once publicized, it will likely encourage greater participation by active users in order to boost their score.

With the increased global use of social media, there are more opportunities than ever before to steal identities or perpetrate fraud online. For example, status updates posted on Twitter, Facebook and many other social media sites can be used for criminal activity. If you post that you’re out of town on vacation, you’ve opened yourself up for burglary. If you mention that you’re away on business for a weekend, you may leave your family open to assault or robbery. When it comes to stalking or stealing an identity, use of photo and video sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube provide deeper insights into you, your family and friends, your house, favorite hobbies and interests.

Before you jump online and cancel all of your social media accounts, consider that there are ways to be smart about what you share and who you share it with. By following the best practices outlined below, you can enjoy the benefits of social media without making yourself a target for criminals.

* Never, ever give out your social security or driver’s license numbers
* Consider unique user names & passwords for each profile
* Vary your passwords and change them regularly
* Don’t give out your username & password to 3rd parties (even if it helps you connect to others and build your network
* Avoid listing the following information publicly: date of birth, hometown, home address, year of high school or college graduation, primary email address
* Assuming you plan to be active in social media, minimize the use of personal information on your profiles that may be used for password verification or phishing attacks
* Only invite people to your network that you know or have met vs. friends of friends and strangers
* For password security verification questions, us a password for all answers (rather than the answer to the specific question)
* When age-shifting to protect your real birthday, keep the date close, otherwise, you may expose yourself to age discrimination
* Watch where you post and what you say, as it can be used against you later.
* Google yourself regularly and monitor your credit

Consumers need to be educated on the proper use of social media as it relates to protecting privacy and security. Social networks need to understand the impact of not addressing security and privacy issues. If the information becomes corrupted, it not only casts doubt on the social network but on your real-life personality.  Look for an expanded version of this blog post in an upcoming issue of Visibility Magazine.


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