We know improper Facebook-ing can cost you a job (either your current one, or one you’re interviewing for), but who else could be looking at your page and costing you big time?
Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are great for keeping tabs on your friends and letting them know what’s going on in your life. But (not to sound too paranoid) you have to remember who might be watching you (ahem, Big Brother).
Here’s a list of the unwelcome voyeurs to be aware of:
1. Debt collectors
If you’ve been dodging a creditor’s calls, snail mail, e-mail and home visits, you might want to stop posting your location on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not suggesting that you skip out on paying your bills, but you might not want a debt collector coming to your Aunt Sandy’s birthday party because you posted the time, date and exact location on your wall. It’s not only private debt collectors who use Facebook to locate you, Uncle Sam is getting in on the act. According to The Wall Street Journal, state revenue agents have begun using social networking sites to track down tax evaders.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that identity theft affects about 9 million Americans each year. Even though you’re not posting your Social Security number on your profile, you’re giving identity thieves an incredible amount of info that could be used to destroy your credit history and your credibility.
It’s not only identity thieves you need to look out for: A recent study by Legal & General found that 38% of social network users post their vacation plans on their profile. Considering that many users have pages that are completely open to public viewing, thieves are making appointments with empty houses via Facebook.
The Better Business Bureau identified several schemes and scams that have made their way onto Facebook and MySpace such as the good old viral wall post. This hack targets those of us who are especially careful about who can see or access our information, making it even more malicious than other hacks. It works like this: a “friend” posts on your wall to let you know that some of your pictures are up on a random Web site. You, wanting your info on lockdown, click the link to the site and, in effect, give the hacker access to your account and allow them to post the same message on the walls of all of your friends. Not only does this cost you, but it could cost others as well.
How to Protect Yourself
There are three very simple steps to keep your profile safer.
Revisit your privacy settings. For many social networking sites, the default setting is public. If you’re profile is entirely public, and you fill it with information like your address, phone number, alma mater, e-mail and relationship status, you’re putting a lot of yourself out there. Does the benefit of possibly finding an old classmate from high school really outweigh your risk of identity theft? Try making your profile visible only to your friends, and go from there.
Make your status updates and wall posts obscure. Don’t tweet about your vacation spot, or at least don’t say you’re out of town. A simple “Out of the office for a week, woohoo!” will do. This way, your friends know you’re gone for the week, but a burglar won’t know your house is empty.
Don’t friend just anyone! This is by far the simplest rule to follow. The Legal & General study also conducted a survey of Twitter and Facebook users’ willingness to allow a stranger access to their profile. Their findings? Thirteen Facebook users out of 100 accepted the friendship of a stranger without checking their background and 92 Twitter users out of 100 allowed strangers to follow them. If you only friend your actual friends, or at least ask someone why they’re friending you, then you’ll have some security in place to ensure you don’t get hacked, scammed or targeted by the authorities.