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Social Media Safety: 4 Tips

Thursday, May 13, 2010
By Kim O’Connor

Many home-based business owners are leveraging social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to boost their bottom line.

In the same spirit, entrepreneurial thieves are using the sites to look for new business while minimizing the risk of getting caught. Cybercrime has evolved beyond identity theft to the next generation of burglars who pilfer your profiles instead of staking out your home.

Here are four tips that will help you stay safe.

1. Avoid Sharing Vital Information
Users tend to share personal information on social networking sites that they might guard more closely in other settings. Often, people reveal their birthdays, home addresses, family members’ names, pets’ names—details that are not only used by financial institutions as identifying information, but also by burglars as they build dossiers of their targets.

“Users inadvertently share too much information at times—crumbs, as it were,” explains Jamz Yaneza, who researches threats for Trend Micro, a company that specializes in Internet content security. “Thieves have all the time in the world to piece these together.”

2. Don’t Announce Your Whereabouts
In May 2009, the media reported the story of an Arizona man who speculated that his house was robbed because he talked up his travel plans on Twitter.

Social networking sites encourage users to post real-time updates about daily life, and many people do.

Avoid broadcasting your travel itinerary or your plans to attend social events like weddings and concerts. A competent thief only needs a few hours to raid your office—and the rest of your home.

3. Think Twice About Posting Photographs

A burglar with a sharp eye can mine a wealth of information from seemingly innocent photographs you share online. Resist the urge to post pictures of new purchases and expensive gifts, which show you have stuff worth stealing.

In a piece for Wired magazine last year about global positioning systems, Mathew Honan demonstrated how even photo sharing sites like Flickr can be gold mines for clever criminals.

“Because the card in my camera automatically added location data to my photos, anyone who cared to look at my Flickr page could see my computers, my spendy bicycle, and my large flatscreen TV all pinpointed on an online photo map,” he wrote. “. . . with a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place—and with a few more you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered to your home.”

4. Adopt A Cautious Attitude

Users’ trusting attitudes are one reason that social networking sites have thrived. The downside is that the same trusting attitude can blur the line between public and private conversation when users open their online networks to people they don’t know well (or at all).

“There’s a growing culture of ‘any friend of yours is a friend of mine,’” explains Yaneza. “This [adage] isn’t necessarily as true online as it is offline.”

Vet your contacts and manage your privacy settings to control data leaks.


Freelance writer Kim O’Connor follows her favorite business celebrities on Twitter.

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