Are online profiles a danger to privacy?

The rapid proliferation of the use of social networking sites among adults 45 and older increases the need for awareness and education surrounding identity theft stemming from information people post online.

According to a study by Experian users are both willingly and unknowingly sharing personal information online, increasing their susceptibility to identity theft. With social networking sites continually implementing changes to their privacy settings, a need exists for education to help decrease the risk of theft.

Too much information is divulged within online profiles. Many adults list a wealth of valuable personally identifiable information on social networking sites. For example, 14 percent of adults surveyed list their home address within their profiles, including an alarming 20 percent of respondents ages 60 and above. Furthermore, nearly half of those polled reveal some type of family or relationship information on their pages. Such actions clearly result in an increased vulnerability when even a simple e-mail address can aid an identity thief in creating background profiles for unsuspecting users.

Customization of privacy settings is essential for increased protection. The danger of posting personal information is intensified when users neglect to customize their profile privacy settings. Survey data reveals that nearly 35 percent of those polled do not adjust their personal settings. Privacy policies for top social networking sites afford users great flexibility in tailoring their privacy preferences; however, failure to do so will leave these users at high levels of risk.

Be wary of quiz originators. More than 50 percent of those surveyed have played games and answered quizzes through their social networks, not realizing the potential for risk if not properly vetted. These applications are highly prevalent and oftentimes created by third parties not affiliated with the social network. Although many applications of this type can be considered safe, it is critical to recognize the red flags involved with potentially risky examples. As a rule, avoid all quizzes or games where personal information is requested. Common examples of such information include one’s full name, address, education background, pet’s names or hometown. Accepting these programs can result in the distribution of not only your personal information, but that of your friends and colleagues as well, putting all involved parties at risk.

Minimize risk and protect valuable information. On a positive note, 75 percent of respondents have previously considered the risk of identity theft via social networks. However, this has not translated to a widespread, proactive movement toward protection. In order to help educate social network users, offers these tips for protection against online fraud:

  • Limit detail. Avoid posting personally identifiable information on social networking sites, including but not limited to: hometown and home addresses, work specifics, phone numbers, educational background and information about children via profiles and through photo identification.
  • Customize and protect. Research your social network’s default account settings and make sure to customize your personal privacy settings for optimal protection.
  • Mind your g’s and q’s (games and quizzes). Before taking a quiz or playing a game, make sure you know it’s from a reputable source. Sharing your own or your friends’ personal information in online quizzes of questionable origin gives third-party access to data that you may believe to be secure.
  • Create the perfect password. For your social network login, do not use passwords that incorporate publicly known information.

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