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Secrets to fear-free social media use

(BPT) – Many Americans love social media, but it scares them, too. While they are reconnecting with old high school classmates, viewing photos of a colleague’s new baby and chatting with a friend about a new job, social media users are also worrying about having their identity stolen from a social media site.

That fear, however, is not stopping them from including on their profiles the kind of personal information that identity thieves love, a new study from TransUnion indicates. Nearly half of participants in the Google Consumer survey commissioned by TransUnion said they were concerned about having their identities stolen from a social media website, yet more than a third also said they included personal information such as their birth date, address, employer and phone number on their profiles.

“Social media is a great way for people to connect and exchange ideas, but social media users need to be careful about what personal information they include in their profiles,” says Heather Battison, vice president of consumer education for TransUnion. “Remember, the general rules of connecting and engaging with others online is the same in social media as everywhere else – use common sense when giving someone information.”

Social media users can better safeguard their identities with these tips:

* Less is more: Avoid giving out personal information on social media sites, such as address, phone number or your birth date. Omit this type of information from your profile. Identity thieves can open accounts and commit a number of financial crimes with just this information.

Never leave a cookie trail: If you use a public or work computer to log into your social media accounts, do not save your password on that public PC. Beware – some social media sites default to automatically remember your password when you sign in, so be sure to check (or uncheck the box, if needed). If the site autosaves and you don’t catch it, your account may open up and be accessible the next time someone else uses that PC to visit that website.

Lock it up: Change your privacy settings on all social media accounts to the most restrictive, which allows you to control all information that is posted. Set your profile to “private” and make sure you have to approve all friend requests, comments, photo tags, links or posts that appear on your page.

Get creative with passwords: Create intricate, unique passwords for each social media account. Change passwords every few months.

Avoid over-sharing: Never reveal travel plans on social media sites. If they know your house is empty while you’re away, cyber thieves could become actual thieves, and break into your house to rob it while you’re out of town.

Teach children about social media safety: While your children may be more adept at navigating the Internet than you are, they may not fully understand the implications of posting private information, photos or potentially offensive material. Make sure your children understand and follow the same rules as you do for social media use.

Monitor your credit: Make sure you periodically check your credit reports for accuracy and consider signing up for a credit monitoring service, which can alert you by email to changes in your credit report – a helpful way to prevent identity theft.

For more information on how to minimize your exposure to identity theft, visit