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Safeguard Your Secrets in the Age of Social Networks

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Don't let your guard down.

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You go on Facebook one day and you have a friend request from a complete stranger who claims to have attended the same high school as you.

You check him out and sure enough he's from the area and he's also a member of the high school alumni group.

Although nobody you know seems to have heard of him, you happily welcome him into the fold. Besides, he only has 10 friends of his own and you feel kind of sorry for him! (You, on the other hand, have 160...and counting!)

Now he's reading your newsfeeds and checking out all your posts.

He reads that your husband just got a promotion at his Wall Street bank and you can't wait for the year-end bonus! He finds out you're an avid art collector and that you just installed an expensive home movie theater in the basement. He also reads that you ran into your old teacher at the supermarket, so now he knows you're still in the area. A quick look in the White Pages and he has your address.

Next, he finds out from your Twitter feed that you hate airlines -- you're at the airport and your flight to Vail for the family vacation has just been delayed!

And then, finally, he gets what he's looking for: Facebook pictures confirming that your entire family is 2,000 miles away, happily skiing the slopes by day and hanging out by the hot tub at night! Your only worry -- again, shared with all your Facebook friends -- is that a pipe doesn't burst in your empty house because of all that cold weather back on the East Coast!

What's wrong with this story? Well, you guessed it: Your new Facebook friend isn't a friend at all. In fact, he's not even a high school alumnus. He's part of a professional house-breaking crew that's targeting your area for a month before they move on somewhere else.

The meteoric rise of online social networking over the last two years -- not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace (NWS) -- has caught a lot of people off guard. They're disclosing private information in a way they would never dream of doing if they were face to face with people.

With little more than a name, an identity thief can go to work. With the kind of intimate personal information that's freely circulating the Web, it's a treasure chest for every crook and conman who knows how to plug in a computer. (See also 13 Ways to Avoid ID Theft.)
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

© Monica Vila, The Online Mom.

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