Social networking sites are rising in popularity and have grown at a tremendous rate to include demographics and age groups from all over the world. While social networking sites help many people stay in touch, they may also pose a risk to users who do not protect their personal information.
A Consumer's Union survey in January showed that 9 percent of the 2000 households that used social networking sites suffered from identity theft, scams or harassment, or malware in the previous year, reports the Los Angeles Times. Consumers may unknowingly post information that, in the hands of a criminal, could lead to identity theft. Consumer Reports advises users to safeguard their information by taking a few small protection measures, the LA Times reports.
Users should refrain from using generic passwords, such as their name or a consecutive series of numbers, in order to make their login information more challenging and less likely to be hacked. A mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols will make passwords more difficult to break, according to Consumer Reports.
Users should not list their full date of birth on Facebook, which criminals can use as a foundation to obtain additional personal information, said Consumer Reports.
Users are discouraged from posting when they plan to leave their home for a trip or vacation, Consumer Reports told the Times. Revealing when a home will be vacant, especially if the address is listed on the site or the user is publicly listed in a phone book, can give criminals a free pass to the user's house.
To better protect personal information, users should purchase and update security systems that contain anti-virus, anti-spam, and anti-spyware applications, Consumer Reports advises. Users are also advised to steer clear of emails that contain links to banks or financial institutions. Identity thieves often use this method, known as phishing, to access a users account information.
Facebook in particular has experienced a recent backlash from members of Congress who are concerned that the new privacy changes, which allow a user's information to be made public, are infringing on the privacy rights of members. The changes allow information, such as hometown, current city, work and education information to be available to members that are not friends with the user, as well as third parties.