Social-networking safety for you and your business

David Pollino
Posted by David Pollino
Security

About 7% of persons age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2012, according to federal data. That’s a one in 14 chance of being a victim.

Man looking down at his table at work, holding a cup of coffee, while another man walks past the large window behind him and daylight streams in.The more you, your business, and your employees share publicly on social networks — even if it’s posting a photo a squash blossom pizza you had while dining out — the easier it is for criminals to take and use your personal information. All the information you share is potentially useful to thieves involved in identity theft, fraud, impersonation, and masquerading.

Businesses face significant risks from fraud and identity theft. Stolen information can put your business in jeopardy of sharing confidential customer data with imposters or even authorizing financial transactions, such as wire transfers, based on misinformation provided by a fraudster.

Steps to boost protection

There are, however, steps businesses and individuals can take to reduce the risk of identity theft.

Verifying the identity of people calling, texting, or emailing about sensitive information is an important step businesses can take to help reduce the risk of identity theft. Businesses with strong authentication procedures can help to ensure anyone requesting information or ordering financial transactions is who they say they are. A key element of an authentication procedure is that it be based on information that is not commonly shared on social media sites. Having a fellow employee verify her birthdate over the phone, for example, would be a weak procedure, since sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn routinely remind our connections these days to wish us happy birthday.

Having a business policy that addresses the appropriate use of social media for business purposes by employees is another worthwhile step to consider. There are many resources online to help in the creation of a social media policy. Two resources I’ve found useful come from the Small Business Administration, which offers a basic guide for creating a social media policy and a guide for employers looking to monitor employee online activity.

Finally, businesses that provide routine training around the authentication procedure and the social media policy can help keep their employees aware of the risks and the steps for reducing those risks.

7 social-networking safety tips

Here are 7 tips to help protect yourself, your business, and your employees on social networks:

1) Less is better. Provide as little information as possible to register on social media sites.

2) Nicknames. When possible use an alias or nickname rather than your actual name, which crooks can use as a starting point for gather information about you.

3) Short-term relations. Ask yourself before you register, if you really expect to use a site long-term, or is there specific information you want and will probably not visit the site in the future. If you don’t expect to keep using a site, then don’t divulge any personal information. Just because a site asks for your birthdate or your name doesn’t mean you have to give it.

4) Passwords. I can’t say it enough: Create strong passwords.

5) Privacy. Use the highest level privacy settings possible on sites. This means not accepting a site without knowing the privacy options and picking the strongest ones possible that work best for you.

6) Don’t get personal. Be smart about what personal details you share and with whom. Announcing you are at Yellowstone for the week may not be a wise move. Wait, and post your bison photos after your trip. Avoid sharing too much personal information, like your birthday, hometown, marital status, phone number, or address. And only share and connect with people you know or whose identity you can verify.

7) Read the fine print. Take the extra few minutes to read the privacy and security policies of social networks you want to join. Understand what information the site will gather about you and what will be done with that information. Sites, for example, that allow you to login using your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts will frequently take all your connections. Ask yourself, do you want this site to have access to all your friends, family, or business connections?

Protecting yourself and your business online takes time and thought. But the effort you put into guarding your identity may keep you from being a victim down the road.

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