Social-networkers can be easy targets

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Social-networking websites have been a godsend for many groups: college students eager to maintain ties with family and friends back home, hobbyists seeking to connect with those who share sometimes-obscure interests, business owners looking for prospective employees and new customers. And, unfortunately, scammers.

Facebook user Elana Rivel said she was stunned to find out someone was impersonating her online. A friend from college tipped her off. "He said that someone had sent him a chat message from me on Facebook and through my e-mail account that said I was in London with my family and I had been held up at gunpoint," Rivel said.

The friend suspected that Rivel's account had been hacked and that her plea for money was fraudulent. Because he immediately contacted her, Rivel was able to close her Facebook and e-mail accounts before further damage could be done. Others aren't so lucky.

Within the past year, 9 percent of those who use Facebook or another social-networking site have experienced some form of abuse, including identity theft, online harassment or a malware infection, according to Consumer Reports' recent "State of the Net" survey. Many of the problems appear to have stemmed from user naivete. As a result, the magazine came up with a list of common Facebook mistakes:

  • Using a weak password: Avoid simple names or words you can find in a dictionary, even with numbers tacked on the end. Instead, mix upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Leaving your full birth date in your profile: It's an ideal target for identity thieves, who could use it to obtain more information about you and gain access to a bank or credit-card account.
  • Overlooking privacy controls: For almost everything in your Facebook profile, you can limit access to only your friends, friends of friends, or yourself.
  • Posting your child's name in a caption: Don't use a child's name in photo tags or captions, and, if someone else does, delete it.
  • Mentioning that you'll be away from home: That's like putting a "no one home" sign on your door. Wait until you get home to describe your awesome vacation.
  • Letting search engines find you: To help prevent strangers from accessing your page, go to the Search section of Facebook's privacy controls and select "Only Friends" for Facebook search results. Be sure the box for public search results isn't checked.
  • Permitting youngsters to use Facebook unsupervised: Although Facebook limits its members to ages 13 or older, younger children do use it.