Mainly to keep up with my friends from Print Futures, I signed up for a Facebook account. It’s fast become something I keep open almost all the time, sitting there as a little tab on my browser, and check obsessively to see what’s going on with my friends.

I’ve also looked for old friends on Facebook, and it amazes me how much information people put up there for anyone to see. It got me thinking about identity theft and how Facebook is a goldmine of information for people with not-so-friendly intentions.

I googled “Facebook” and “identity theft” and learned that high schoolers and college kids are the fastest growing group of targets for identity theft, partly because of their use of social networking sites and casualness towards putting personal information online. In addition, they are less likely to check their credit report and discover scams going on in their name.

But the creakier, over-30s are vulnerable too. I notice that some of my friends are putting phone numbers, full birthdates, and their work history in their profile – all of which is information that could help someone impersonate you. However, if you’re a paranoid person like I am, Facebook does offer a schwack of privacy options that allows you to limit who sees your profile and what information someone who searches for you might find. You can click on the privacy button on top of the screen to customize who gets to see what information. Still, you want to strike a balance between totally hiding everything and letting people know who you are.

If worrying about identity thieves harvesting info from your profile isn’t enough, there’s also the threat of phishing to guard against. Facebook sends an e-mail to me when someone writes on my wall, sends me a message, or adds me as friend. Some scammers have taken advatage of this and create similar looking e-mails with links to click. The links lead to a fake site designed to get you to give up your password. Again, I’m a paranoid person – so if I get such an e-mail, I let my mouse hover over the link, and if the http:// that comes up doesn’t match, fuggedaboutit. Delete.

Other than that, if I get friend request from people whose names I don’t know and whose information doesn’t look familar, I won’t add them. I got a friend request from someone who I thought might have been someone I know, but because I wasn’t sure if they were using a fake name or if they were a weirdo who was collecting random Facebook friends, I rejected them. Like I said, paranoid.

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