The explosion of social networks on the World Wide Web has been a great thing for home-based agents who are able to use the sites for marketing purposes, capturing information, keeping in contact with colleagues and clients, and more. But these sites need to be used wisely, with careful attention paid to security.
Just this past weekend, a friend of mine received a message on Facebook from a couple she knows. Basically, it said that they were on vacation in London, had been robbed at gunpoint and were now in desperate need of money to get home. After doing some investigating, my friend discovered that the couple was not and had never been in London, but was home going about their business. Obviously their Facebook account had been hacked into by a scammer; although there were some holes in the story (why would anyone have to resort to going on Facebook for help in this instance was my first thought), clearly it wasn’t the first time these criminals were attempting this and it probably works some small percentage of the time.
The following tips, provided by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (www.us-cert.gov), will help to protect you from cyber criminals when you use social networks.
• Limit the amount of personal information you post. Do not post information that would make you vulnerable (e.g., your address, information about your schedule or routine). If your connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing.
• Remember that the Internet is a public resource. Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing. This includes information in your profile and in blogs and other forums. Also, once you post information online, you can't retract it. Even if you remove the information from a site, saved or cached versions may still exist on other people's machines.
• Be wary of strangers. The Internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives. Consider limiting the people who are allowed to contact you on these sites. If you interact with people you do not know, be cautious about the amount of information you reveal or agreeing to meet them in person.
• Be skeptical. Don't believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about various topics, including their own identities. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent; it could be unintentional, a product of exaggeration or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taken any action.
• Check privacy policies. Some sites may share information such as e-mail addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam. Also, try to locate the policy for handling referrals to make sure that you do not unintentionally sign your friends up for spam. Some sites will continue to send e-mail messages to anyone you refer until they join.
Social networks can be a rewarding and beneficial tool for agents, as long as you approach them with common sense. Use the same care you would with anything else regarding your identity and property, and you'll feel a lot better about enjoying and utilizing these sites.