Ensuring your behaviour on social networks isn’t leaving you open to criminals

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In the last post we looked at ways in which your ‘offline behaviour’ might leave you vulnerable to identity thieves. In this post we’ll look at how aspects of your online behaviour might be making you prey to criminals.

We’ve already discussed steps you can take to make sure you’re guarded against Trojan horses and viruses that are designed to steal your personal information, this post will give you a few tips on how much information you can safely reveal about yourself without revealing too much.


Just this week, the news is buzzing about the conviction of a 33 year old man from Newcastle, who used Facebook to work out personal details belonging to friends and neighbours in order to scam them out of more than $35,000.

It transpired that Iain Wood spent up to 18 hours a day on websites including Facebook and Friends Reunited digging up personal information of neighbours who lived in his block of flats.

He then used the information posted by unsuspecting friends and neighbours to work out their passwords and get past security checks. He then went on to hack their bank accounts. He managed to steal more than $35,000 over the course of two years that he then gambled away.

An increasing number of social network users can be overly complacent about posting personal information online. Here are some tips on what to avoid posting on social networking sites that might leave you vulnerable:

1. Location-based Social Networks
An increasing number of social networks encourage users to post details of where they are in the form of ‘check-ins’. These include Google Latitude, Foursquare and Facebook. But next time you’re checking in at a local restaurant, don’t forget this is effectively advertising the fact that you’re not at home to potential thieves.

2. Friend requests
Never accept friend requests from people you don’t know or who don’t have a clear connection to your circle of friends. By doing so, you’re doing the equivalent of inviting complete strangers into your home – which would not be a good idea!

3. Personal data
As well as ensuring that your privacy settings are set not to reveal private information, it’s worth taking some time to learn about the security features on sites such as Facebook, such as the facility to send you an alert when your account is accessed by an unfamiliar computer. It’s also a good idea to strip out any necessary information such as birthdays, pet’s names, and of course addresses. Also be conscious of what security question you set up on sites in the event you lose your password – is it a question that other people might be able to work out the answer too.

4. Travel plans
In the same way as the use of some location-based social networks advertise your location; be careful not to post details of when you go on holiday. Similarly, it’s best to wait until you get back to post holiday pictures. If a thief discovers a house or flat is likely to be empty for another three or four days, it’s an open invitation.


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