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Internet Security 101: What not to post on Facebook

May 3, 2010 | 11:14 am

Lock A Consumer Reports survey found that more than half of adults who use social networks post information that puts them at risk for identity theft and other cyber crimes. 

A survey of 2,000 U.S. households in January showed 9% of those who used social networks were victims of malware, identity theft, scams of harassment within the last year, according to Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. (The group did not say how that rate compares with similar households that do not use social networks.)

But what constitutes risky information? Here's a handy list of seven things that Consumer Reports says users should "stop doing now" on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or any other social network:

Using a weak password. Avoid simple names or words that can be found in a dictionary, even with numbers tacked on the end. Instead, mix upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. A password should have at least eight characters. One good technique is to insert numbers or symbols in the middle of the word.

Listing a full birth date. Listing a full birth date -- month, day and year -- makes a user an easy  target for identity thieves, who can use it to obtain more personal information and potentially gain access to bank and credit card accounts. Consumer Reports' survey showed 38% posted their full birth dates. Choose to show only the month and day or no birthday at all.

Overlooking useful privacy controls. Facebook users can limit access for almost everything that is posted on a profile, including photos and family information. Leave out contact info, such as phone number and home address.

Posting a child's name in a caption. Don’t use a child's name in photo tags or captions. If someone else does, delete it by clicking "Remove Tag." If a child isn't on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name.

Mentioning being away from home. Three percent of Facebook users surveyed said they had posted this information on their page. Doing so is like putting a "no one's home" sign on the door. Be vague about the dates of vacations or trips.

Being found by a search engine. To help prevent strangers from accessing a profile, 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 isn’t checked.

Permitting youngsters to use Facebook unsupervised. Facebook limits its members to ages 13 and older, but children younger than that do use it. If there's a young child or teenager in the household who uses Facebook, Consumer Reports recommends that an adult in the same household should become one of their online friends and use their e-mail as the contact for the account in order to receive notification and monitor activity.

-- Alex Pham

Photo credit: Kristine Adelia via Flickr

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

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