The best ways to protect your identity online

There has never been a more crucial time to beware about what information you post online

With identity theft on the rise and personal information at a premium, it's never been more important to be cautious about what you reveal online.

Social-networking sites such as Facebook have largely usurped chatrooms and forums -- at least in the grown-up world -- as fun places to hang around online and engage in harmless distractions. Unfortunately, they've also replaced chatrooms in the tabloid consciousness as the place where paedophiles go to pick up victims.

But while we conscientiously monitor our kids' internet use and apply restrictions to the sites they can visit and the times they're allowed to go online, we may be putting ourselves in other sorts of danger.

Practice what you preach

Having taught your kids to chat only to people they know and to limit the amount of personal information they give out, consider whether you practice what you preach.

Announcing to the world (via your Facebook profile) that you're bungee-jumping at Victoria Falls tells us you're still game for a laugh. If your profile also states your birth date, home town, address and phone number, along with a reference to your current and past employers, you've left yourself wide open to someone becoming the new you.

In the past, a tell-tale answerphone message stating that you're on holiday would have been brilliant news for an opportunist thief. The equivalent these days is the careless status update or unprotected online profile that enables a cybercrook to sell on your personal details.

Limit your exposure

Privacy options at such sites aren't always enabled by default, although Facebook has taken steps to make users' current security settings far more transparent. Even so, you should check who can see what. The Privacy option at the top right of Facebook's home page lets you dictate who can see details about you and who can search for you.

In February, Facebook made a deal to make postings and profiles searchable via search engines. Fraudsters don't even have to be Facebook members in order to track you down and find out information about you.

While there was plenty of outcry, the fact remains that Facebook's sign-up terms allow it to do this -- while your profile may be all about you and acts as your online identity, Facebook owns the lot. The point here is to ensure you read the terms and conditions before signing up.

Allowing friends to see your email address, photo, status and musical tastes is fine, but we suggest you disable the search part. Also, if you allow friends of friends and 'Anyone in my networks' to see every online move you make, you've opened yourself up to an audience of thousands, if not millions -- especially if one of your networks is London. Anyone in your network could use what they can glean from your profile against you.

Be wary of seemingly 'mutual' friends attempting to add you to their friends list. They may simply want to outdo their mates in how many online friends they have. Or they may want to be your friend to acquire further personal details via your profile.

While this may sound far-fetched, there are plenty of reported instances of publicly and semi-publicly posted personal information being exploited in this way.

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Rosemary Haworth

Techworld

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