Our Facebook Identity Theft Protection Guide provides six tips to prevent Facebook users from being victimized by identity theft. These six tips concentrate on two areas in which users can be proactive in protecting their identity and personal information: limiting the amount of personal information available and restricting your Facebook profile to people you know and trust. Many of these tips are also applicable when using MySpace, but there are some significant differences between various social networking sites. While Facebook is primarily geared toward one on one interaction with people you know in real life, MySpace is more frequently used to establish a larger and more public online presence and facilitate contact with large groups of people. While we still recommend that users only accept friend requests from people they know, we realize that this is not necessarily realistic. If you do choose to make your MySpace profile visible to strangers, we strongly encourage you to be extremely careful when publishing any information about yourself. Presumably, you would not walk around in public wearing a t-shirt printed with your birthday, phone number and address. So use the same discretion on MySpace.
Tip #1: Decide how public you want your MySpace profile to be, and select your privacy settings accordingly.
MySpace does offer some privacy settings, although they are not nearly as comprehensive as the privacy settings on Facebook. You can access these settings by clicking on the "My Account" link near the upper right hand corner of any page on the MySpace website. From the "My Account" page, click the "Privacy" link. This will take you to the "General Privacy" page, where there are six options for restricting your visibility.
Online Now: Whether you choose to show people when you are online is up to you, but bear in mind that the more "time and place" data that you expose, the easier it will be for people to determine what your daily routine is like. That knowledge could be used to victimize you. (See Tip #3.)
Birthday: This is an important piece of personal information that can potentially be used by identity thieves. It is safest not to make it visible, particularly if you accept friend requests from strangers.
Profile Viewable By: Who you allow to view your profile is a very important decision, as it should determine how much information you decide to publish. If you choose to make your profile visible to everyone, or everyone 18 and over, you should treat it like a personal website and keep personal information to an absolute minimum. If you choose to make your profile only viewable by your friends, and only accept friend requests from people you know, then you can basically follow the six Facebook security tips.
Photos: It is almost never a good idea to encourage the circulation of personal pictures on the Internet. We suggest that you uncheck this option.
Block Users By Age: This is at your discretion, although you should seriously consider preventing users under 18 from contacting you if you are a teacher or work in some other profession where you are a figure of authority for minors. Also, bear in mind that many users' MySpace profiles do not reflect their actual age.
Block Users: While this may be a useful feature for you, it will not really help protect you from identity thieves, since you can't possibly know who they are ahead of time.
Tip #2: Limit the amount of personal information available on your MySpace profile.
If you do choose to make your MySpace profile visible only to your friends, and only accept friend requests from people you know, then the six Facebook security tips apply here as well. Many MySpace users, however, either make their profile visible to everyone, or accept friend requests from strangers, or both. If your profile is visible to strangers, you should be especially careful when publishing any information about yourself.
Exposing your full name, date of birth, phone number, email address, or home address to the general public is extremely foolish. Revealing personal information about your spouse or significant other can put you both at risk of having your identities stolen.
Identity thieves can use your phone number and home address to submit a change of address form with the United States Postal Service and have your mail forwarded, allowing the thief to gain access to financial or other sensitive information that would allow them to open a credit card or other accounts in your name. They might also use contextual information in your profile to deduce what your user names and passwords could be for various accounts, and hack into these online accounts with this information.
Our recommendation is to limit the amount of information available on your MySpace profile. Specifically:
- Do not list your full date of birth, phone number, or home address on your MySpace profile.
- Limit the amount of contextual password clues on your profile pages. Identity thieves know that many people use personal information, such as birthdays, a spouse or significant other's birthday or name, anniversary dates, mother's maiden name or pet's name as password on their personal account. It is also a good idea to refrain from using personal information in your online passwords, as this makes your personal accounts much more vulnerable to being hacked.
Tip #3: Limit the amount of "time and place" data that you expose through MySpace.
MySpace users often publish information about their schedule and whereabouts on their profile, or in MySpace's forums. Information about the exact location of your home, school, or office, as well as information about your immediate or upcoming plans can help criminals victimize you in a number of ways. Personal photographs can be even more revealing, since any number of seemingly insignificant details could be used to uncover information about your whereabouts or daily routine.
By revealing when you will be away from your home, even indirectly or unintentionally, you put yourself at risk. Criminals can use this information to determine when your home may be most susceptible to a burglary, which could open you up to any number of forms of identity theft or worse.
Tip #4: Remember that even people you know can be identity thieves.
Even if you do make your MySpace profile visible to only your friends, and only accept friendship requests from people you know, you should still be very cautious when revealing personal information online. Several recent studies show that a significant number of identity theft victims know the person that victimized them.
According to Javelin Research, 17% of identity theft crimes are perpetrated by people that the victim knows, such as friends or family members. The credit bureau Experian found that 55% of identity thefts perpetrated against children were committed by someone the victim knew.
Even if you believe that all your MySpace friends are people you know and trust, we strongly recommend that you still follow all of these security tips to avoid falling victim to MySpace identity theft.
Tip #5: Read and follow the safety tips provided by MySpace.
MySpace recently added an extensive section to the website dealing with safety. You can access this section by clicking on the "Safety Tips" link at the bottom of any page on the MySpace website. These safety recommendations are mainly directed at teenagers and their parents, but there is other information that should be helpful and valuable to any user.
Tip #6: Consider an identity theft protection service.
Identity theft, whether online or in the real world, is a real and growing threat. We recommend that all consumers consider using a proactive identity theft protection service to protect their identities. Two such services that we have reviewed and recommend are Identity Guard and LifeLock.
Each identity theft protection service is different, but most will:
- Set fraud alerts with the 3 major credit bureaus so that new accounts cannot be opened in your name without your knowledge.
- Provide you with identity theft insurance that will reimburse you on costs and expenses you incur as a result of being victimized.
- Provide you with copies of your credit report.
You can learn more about the various benefits of identity theft protection services and learn more about the specific services we have reviewed by visiting our identity theft protection service guide and comparison.
While social networks like MySpace can be fun and productive services, it is important for users to be aware of the risks that they pose. We believe that taking proactive steps to protect your identity on MySpace will only improve the amount of enjoyment you can get out of the service.
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