By Officer Larry Jacobs
“Social networks” such as Facebook and Twitter are great ways to stay in touch with family, friends and co-workers. They’re also ways to stay in touch with people you might not want to stay in touch with.
Crooks are constantly scanning these sites for the kind of information they find useful: Social Security numbers, dates of births, addresses and anything else that can be used to find out more about you and your family. Something as innocent as posting when your family is going on vacation can leave you vulnerable.
Yet, every day, Facebook and other social network users publish personal information that could put them at risk.
“An awful lot of people think when they get online and communicate with their friends that they are invincible,” says Adam Levin, chairman of Identity Theft 911. A seemingly benign post or piece of information could make you a target of identity thieves and traditional crooks.
To protect yourself, here are five things Kiplinger.com says you should avoid posting online:
1. Date of birth. Almost 60 percent of social networkers post their date of birth, according to a survey by Identity Theft 911. After all, most of us like to be wished a happy birthday. But resist the urge to post your complete birth date — including the year — on your Facebook profile just to get a lot of messages on your big day. This is valuable information for identity thieves. I know you’re thinking only your friends see what you post. But if someone does a search for your name, that person will see your birth date, if it’s listed in your profile.
2. Child’s date of birth. When you post “Happy Birthday to my sweet Susie, who turns 5 today,” you’re giving identity thieves valuable information about your child. When it comes to your kids, resist the urge to post any information about them.
3. Travel plans. Surely you’ve seen Facebook posts like this: “We’re going to the beach next week. Can’t wait.” In fact, you may be guilty of it yourself – 18 percent of social network users post travel times, according to the Identity Theft 911 survey. Guess what? You’ve just extended an invitation for people to burglarize your home. Three men in New Hampshire burglarized more than 18 homes by checking Facebook status updates to see when people wouldn’t be home.
4. Address. If your address is on your profile and you let people know when you’re going out of town, well, you know where I’m going with this. Nonetheless, 21 percent of social network users post their address, according to the Identity Theft 911 Survey.
5. Mother’s maiden name. It may seem like common sense not to post your mother’s maiden name on a social networking site, but about 11 percent of the people who responded to the Identity Theft 911 survey said they did. Identity thieves will hit the jackpot if you reveal this bit of information online.
Not only should you avoid posting any of this information, but also you should fix your Facebook settings to control who sees what on your page. Use different passwords for social media sites than you use for financial sites, such as your bank or credit card site. Be careful about clicking on links on Facebook or similar sites because they could contain viruses that will secretly track your passwords, account numbers and other things.
Officer Larry Jacobs is a crime prevention specialist with the Crime Prevention Unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at lJacobs@sandyspringag.gov