Today there are more than 600 million Facebook users and that number is growing by leaps and bounds every day. It is estimated that 91% of teenagers have a profile on Facebook, which contains all of their personal information and studies have also found that:
– 46% – accepted friend requests from unknown people, strangers
– 89% (in their 20s) – disclosed their full birthday
– 95% – post their email address
– between 30-40% – list data about their family and friends
Few people who post their information on Facebook seem to realize that it will be made available to virtually anyone with an Internet connection.
While you can meet new friends online, you may also come into contact with malicious people misrepresenting themselves. Internet thieves and sexual predators are only too eager to exploit personal information found on social networking sites. They are out there and willing to hurt you unless you take proper precautions.
A second consideration, frequently overlooked, is that information you post on a social networking site may reveal indiscretions and worse to parents, college professors, future employers, and the legal system.
Students have been suspended and expelled for escapades and threats posted online and potential job offers have been withdrawn because of information posted on a social networking site. Stories are increasing about people being “weeded out” from a job search due to compromising or ill-advised photos and information found on the Web.
Keep these things in mind to help you protect yourself on a social networking Web site:
Consider restricting access to your profile. If the site allows it, it’s a good idea to limit access to your profile. Don’t allow strangers to learn everything they can about you. It’s just not safe.
Keep your private information private. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, full birth date, financial information, or schedule. These will make you vulnerable to identity thieves, scams, burglars, or worse.
Choose a screen name that is different from your real name. Avoid using any personal information that would help someone identify or locate you offline.
Think twice about the photos you post. While one of the fun things about the Internet is sharing photos with friends, keep in mind that the Internet is also a public resource. Those party pictures can come back to haunt you and can also be altered or shared without your knowledge. Even if you remove photos or information, they can still exist in archive caches or on another person’s computer.
Don’t post information that makes you vulnerable to a physical attack. Revealing where you plan to meet your friends, your class schedule, or your street address is almost an open invitation for someone to find you. Remember that a photo in front of the Co-op tells strangers you are in Austin, and quite likely at the university.
Use your common sense. If you are contacted by a stranger online, find out if any of your established friends know the person, or run an online search on them (after all, you can use these things to your own benefit too!). If you agree to meet them, make it in a public place and invite others to join you.
Trust your instincts. If you feel threatened or uncomfortable during an online interaction, don’t continue the dialogue. Report any offensive behavior to the social networking Web site administrators.
Be suspicious. Don’t take any information you receive from a new online contact at face value. The Internet makes it easy for people to say or do things they would never say or do in public or in face-to-face interactions. Protecting yourself is the smart thing to do.
Even your real friends on Facebook can make you vulnerable. Your security is only as good as your friend’s security. If someone in your network of friends has a weak password and his or her profile is hacked, he or she can now send you malware. For example: There is a common scam called a 419 scam, in which someone hacks your profile and send messages to your friends asking for money – claiming to be you – saying, “Hey, I was in London, I was mugged, please wire me money.” People fall for it thinking their good friend needs help – and end up wiring money to Nigeria.
Never forget the fact that Facebook is an open book about your life!