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Lessons and stories from the front lines of fighting identity theft.


Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Jan 08


Facebook has become one of the fastest growing social networks, with 350 million active users and nearly a quarter million new people signing up on Facebook every day.  To identity thieves, Facebook is a treasure trove of information just waiting to be stolen. With all this personal information being exchanged online, fraudsters have targeted Facebook as a source for their nefarious activities. 

As of December 9th, 2009 Facebook gave users new tools to control their information. Facebook rolled out easy-to-use tools to give people the power to control what information can be seen and viewed by other Facebook users.  According to Elliott Schrage, vice president of communications, Public Policy and Marketing, “Facebook is transforming the world’s ability to control its information online by empowering more than 350 million people to personalize the audience for each piece of content they share.” This article will examine the recent changes to privacy settings, what readers can do to protect their information, and offer tips to avoid identity theft on social networks.

The pieces of information Facebook users have the option of inputting into their accounts are broken down into four sections under the “Edit My Profile” portion of Facebook which is located right under the picture you have posted of yourself (or any picture) on the upper left hand side.  The sections are listed as follows: Basic Information, Personal Information, Contact Information, and Education/Work.  For instance, the “Basic Information” portion of a Facebook account will have the first/last name, birthday, present mailing address, family members names – etc. etc.  However, these kinds of information being visible for everyone to see can put anyone in danger for identity theft.  Not only that, these pieces of information exposed on a Facebook account are what fraudsters try to collect and only need to commit some kind of fraud against any individual.

You may be someone who thinks identity theft can’t happen to you online and don’t need to change your privacy settings because you feel confident that you are very cautious as to who you accept as being your friend.  With this mind set, you just end up making it easy for identity thieves to steal your personal information and use it for their gain.  As a result, you will end up suffering financial losses and could spend years clearing up the mess.

If you are one of the millions of people communicating and sharing personal information on Facebook, this article will help you better understand Facebook’s updated privacy settings which were recently launched.  I have a Facebook account and I can be quite paranoid on what information is being exposed about me. Thus, I have taken preventative measures by changing my account’s privacy settings. In today’s world, social networking has become a part of many people’s routine. As a past fraud resolution agent, I found that when things became routine, people became lax in their protection efforts.  “Identity theft remains a prevalent and crippling crime, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do things to safeguard against it,” adds Linda Foley, founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “That’s why it’s so important to understand that some seemingly benign actions people take everyday expose their identities to greater risk. Once that understanding is there, they can take steps to lessen their risks.”  Foley’s reminder about everyday activities highlights the need to use caution when engaging in any social forum and proactively manage your Facebook privacy settings.

Here are some recommendations regarding the new Facebook privacy options that will help you to protect against online identity theft:

1. Profile: Select “Only my friends” in the drop down menu. This will ensure that only people you have approved by adding them as a friend will have access to your personal information.
2. Search: Under “Which Facebook users can find me in search” select “Only my friends”.  This will ensure that only people you have already approved can find you through Facebook’s search function.  Also, uncheck the box under “Create my public search listing.” This will prevent Facebook from publishing a public version of your profile that will be listed in search engines such as Google or Yahoo.
3. News Feed: Uncheck any boxes associated with items you do not want published to all of your friends. It is up to your discretion as a user, but it is best not to publish any items that may expose personal information in some way.

Keep in mind, it’s easy to provide access to people, such as your friends and family over time, but it can be impossible to turn back the clock  if a piece of personal information gets into the wrong hands.  For that reason, we recommend Facebook users take the conservative approach to their personal settings to protect their identities while online.