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Is it REALLY MySpace?

by Lisa Carey

Summary : MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites are some of the fastest growing uses of the internet for the promotion of bands, businesses, people and just staying in touch. However, there are some pitfalls with so much personal information in one place that is so easily accessible.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States today. This year it is estimated that approximately 6 million identity theft crimes will occur in varying degrees. What types of crimes may these be? Anything from borrowing your photos from Facebook or MySpace pages and using it to create some form of identification, to altering it in astounding ways and setting up a new website; to making purchases and obtaining credit with your personal, financial and credit information.

Information that to you may seem worthless may seem to someone looking for a new "identity" to be gold. In approximately 7 minutes online on MySpace, I was able to find out where a young man lived, what school he went to, where he lived, his birthdate and what his plans are for the Christmas holidays. Give me about 10 more minutes and I would probably be able to find out enough information to be able to start my own new identity from his.

What is some information that can be pieced together? First, your profile is a great help to someone wanting a new identity. Your picture may be posted, your city, state, sometimes even your address, birth date, your last vacation, and your plans for other vacations, and simply general comments about what you do, when you do it and where you do it. With that information you can also be sent follow up emails which may gather additional personal information; such as one individual who was sent an email, which appeared to be from his university requesting verification of his social security number. Within minutes the mail had been sent and the student's now so called personal information is someone else's.

How can you protect yourself on MySpace or Facebook? First, set your profile to private, allowing access to your information from only those that you invite or add to your list. However, this doesn't work if you simply add to your list anyone who contacts you and asked to be added. Be careful who you share information with.

Make sure that your password is different for your email account as it is for your MySpace, Facebook or other social networking sites. If you notice postings and changes to your MySpace that you are sure that you did not post, it is possible that someone has figured out your password and is now using it to access your account. If you have the same passwords they can in turn access your email.

Other information that people mistakenly post on their social networking pages include their favorite music and relationship status, but also their cell phone numbers, and previous employers. All of this information can be used to create a credit account in their names.

Another reason that users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are at high risk is because so many of their users are young, inexperienced and because of the "trust" level that is achieved when you meet "friends" online. Many users of these sites simply take a great deal of information at face value and then reciprocate by providing their information in the form of casual conversation, comments and blogs. However, your "friends" may not be your friends and may be simply there to gain information to use for some other purpose.

The National Cyber Security Alliance http://staysafeonline.org advises that people think of social networking sites as "billboards in cyberspace." Would you want your credit card or employment information on a billboard? Or when you will be gone from your home? To stay safe from identity theft online; be careful what information you post, make sure to keep your profiles safe and secure by limiting access, use unique hard to discover passwords, and make sure to use up to date anti virus as well as Spy ware software programs. In this way, you can know that you are taking the appropriate precautions to keep your personal and financial information safe as well as having a good time with your friends on these sites.

Lisa Carey is a freelance writer and contributing author for identitytheftsecrets.com
Visit Lisa's website, newcreativewriting.com