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Social Networking Can Be Both Friend and Foe

In 2010, one out of every thirteen people in the world was a Facebook user. Between 2009 and 2011 the number of Facebook users age 45 and older in the United States grew from 2.4% to 19%, the fastest growing user demographic by far.

See Also: Find a Friend With Facebook Search

As our families and friends become ever more present on Facebook and other networking sites, many consumers feel this is the most convenient way to communicate. Unfortunately, social networking in general is also becoming the most efficient way for scammers to get hold of millions of consumers' personal information.

Many of us have heard of some of the scams that have emerged during the last few years. One example is a caller posing as a beloved grandson or granddaughter who is stranded in a foreign country after losing all their money and passport. The concerned grandparent wires the money as instructed, not knowing that they are sending money to an imposter. How does this happen? Thanks, in part, to information consumers willingly post on social networking sites, scammers can arm themselves with personal details about their potential victims. They can then easily dupe consumers out of thousands of dollars.

Most people are simply not aware of how easy it is for these scammers to steal personal data. Every day millions of people upload photos, tag friends, and publicly post details about their private lives leaving a wealth of information for scammers to peruse. Emails that appear to be from Facebook “friends” can open the door to online theft. It is a growing problem and it is worth taking the necessary steps to stay safe on the Internet.

The best way to protect yourself from falling prey to online thieves is to stay informed. The Maine State Library offers online tutorials and webinars on how to set up a Facebook account and control your privacy settings.

In addition, Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling) shares these tips on how to protect yourself online:

  • Don’t click on links provided in messages – even from friends – unless you check them with a phone call or off website email.
  • Get program upgrades by going to the company’s website, not through a provided link.
  • Make your Facebook account private so that only friends can see your details.
  • Scan your computer regularly with an updated antivirus program.
  • Be suspicious of anyone – even a “friend” – who asks you for money over the Internet.
  • Report suspicious activity on social networks to that website and to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Staying safe on the Internet is a good idea for all of us no matter our age. Would-be thieves are very clever at coming up with new ways to make you think they are your friend. Let’s work together to keep online predators “unfriended” and out in the cold.

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