“Less is best” when it comes to privacy and sharing information on Facebook.
According to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the fastest growth among social networking users has come from those who are 74 and older. If you’re among that group and you’ve started using Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends and network with people who share common interests, take some time to explore and understand the dangers the site poses for privacy and safety and understand how to protect yourself and your identity.
Though this list is far from comprehensive, here are some key safety measures to keep in mind when you’re using Facebook.
Facebook is a scammers’ playground because they often can find a wealth of information — that you provide voluntarily —that helps them steal your identity. For instance, you don’t want to announce your exact birthday to the world. It’s a key piece of information scammers and identity thieves use to harm you.
Also be wary about revealing your mother’s maiden name because it’s a vital bit of security information used by banks and credit card companies.
Facebook isn’t the government; you don’t have to put your full, legal name on Facebook. Instead, use a nickname. You also don’t have to list your precise hometown. If you live in a tiny community, Moweaqua, Ill., for example, consider listing a bigger city — Decatur, Ill., or even Chicago — as your home town. That makes it harder for wrongdoers to collect vital bits of information about you that they can later use to hijack your account, steal your identity or track you down in the virtual or physical world.
Lock down your privacy settings. Review the privacy settings and keep in mind the “less is best” advice when you’re responding to the most basic Facebook set-up questions, such as:
Pick the settings that allow only friends to see your updates and reach out to you. When you’re establishing your account, get someone to help you with it so you’re not setting yourself up for trouble.
I’m on vacation!
Post pictures and comments about your vacation adventures only after you’ve returned home and not during your trip. Why? You’re announcing to the world, “I’m not home,” potentially leaving yourself vulnerable to thieves who can figure out exactly how long they’ll have to burglarize your house.
The same goes for event invitations. Facebook is a convenient way to invite people to parties and celebrations, but once you say yes to a Facebook invitation, keep in mind that you’re also broadcasting that you’ll be at a certain place on a certain date.
Picture my house, expensive toys
Get familiar with geotagging if you’re uploading photos to your Facebook page using GPS-equipped Smartphones and digital cameras. Depending on your device’s settings, you could be including the location of where the images were taken. When you upload images, that information can be embedded in the photo and miscreants can find out exactly where a picture was shot. So that means if you take pictures of your house and fancy electronics, thieves can find your address. If you’ve taken pictures of your grandchildren in their backyard, people can figure out where your little one lives.
1234 isn’t tough
Yes, it’s hard to remember the passwords to all the sites you visit, and if you lean toward using your dog’s name combined with a couple numbers, you could be setting yourself up for trouble. It’s pretty easy for someone trying to hijack your Facebook account by just testing out Fido1234. Create beefy passwords that contain upper and lower case letters, punctuation marks, oddball characters (@%*^) and numbers. Also, using the same password for multiple accounts is a no-no.
I don’t want to be rude
Maybe you feel like it’s impolite to reject someone’s offer of friendship. But if you don’t know the person or don’t like the person, ignore the friend request. Ask yourself whether you’d be willing to share your personal details, opinions and family reunion photos with the guy sitting next to you on the subway. If your answer is no, practice being rude.
If someone in your Facebook circle of friends scares you or makes you uncomfortable, you accidentally accept a friend request from a stranger or you no longer want to keep in touch with someone, Facebook allows you to unfriend people.
Also, if there’s a stalker in your past or you want to be certain that an ex-spouse or ex-friend can’t reach you on Facebook, look into the blocking feature, which denies those people permission to reach you.
Alexis Moore is an expert on cyber stalking, a risk management consultant and vice president and broker of Blackstone Realty Group in El Dorado Hills. For more information visit AlexisMoore.com.