Friday, May 15, 2009

Be careful online: Not everyone is a true friend

By Michelle Singletary

After much hesitation, I finally set up a Facebook account.

So I wouldn't be seen as a dinosaur, I've also registered on I haven't been tweeting much, but I'm now part of the throng of folks socializing with their keyboards.

My fans or critics will just have to contend with professional conversation because, in a nutshell, I'm paranoid. And you should be too if you're gabbing about your life on various online social networks. Like a pickpocket working a crowded public venue, cyber thieves may be collecting information that makes victimizing you so much easier with all the personal data you provide.

The more a criminal knows about you -- your likes and dislikes, your friends, where you grew up, your drama -- the easier it is to con you. The vast majority of perpetrators contacted complainants in the federal report either through e-mail or via Web sites.

Tweeting about your Memorial Day getaway plans?

One of your Twitter followers, some of whom might be strangers, may see it as an opportunity to burglarize your home. If you want to tweet about your vacation or holiday plans, do it after the fact.

"Not too many people are giving second thoughts to the personal information they provide, especially the more youthful users," said Peter Spicer, communications manager for Chubb Personal Insurance. "People don't realize that as they drop information someone may be building a composite of who they are."

Chubb offers these tips to help protect you from identity theft or a financial loss:

-- Birthday blackout. Never divulge your date of birth online (month, day or year). It can be used for identity theft or to answer a security question.

-- Pet privacy. The name of your pet is a common security question, so keep your pooch's name private or avoid using it as your security answer or password.

-- Trash talking. Increasingly employers are searching online for information about prospective hires. So don't trash your last employer or you might risk losing a job opportunity.

--Neighbor nastiness. You may have an incredibly bad neighbor, but be careful about posting comments about your battles. Derogatory comments can be used against you in a defamation lawsuit, Spicer said. The same goes for your children. Talk to your kid about going public with their conflicts. "The power users of these technologies are kids," Spicer said. "If they are talking about other kids, they may find themselves with their parents in a courtroom." Even if the lawsuit has no merit, there's still the cost of a defense. Personal liability coverage under your homeowner's policy can provide some protection, but the policies are limited, Spicer said.

These tips may seem like simple, common sense. And yet when I view the postings of friends and strangers, I see some of the listed mistakes. If you want to tweet or post things about your life, just remember that TMI (too much information) could cost you.

No comments: