Protect privacy, avoid fraud

Forensic accountant David Malamed’s investigative project shows it’s easier than one might think to gather other people’s personal information on Facebook, the Toronto Star reported Nov. 1.

Malamed’s experiment involved creating a Facebook profile under a false name, and waiting for “friend” requests from strangers. He then accessed the profile of an online “friend” to find its creator’s birthday, current city and maiden name. Using Canada411.com, Malamed then found the subject’s address.

With access to this private information, Malamed could have applied for a credit card using the name of his online “friend.” He also might have been able to set up a mortgage or make bank transactions using this data.

Following the experiment, Malamed compared posting personal information on Facebook to opening his wallet on the street and showing a stranger the information inside. The Internet is an open system designed to allow open access to information. There’s a wealth of knowledge available, but the responsibility rests with users to control and monitor what we share.

With social networking sites like Facebook, privacy settings are available for a reason. Users should take the time to educate themselves about these settings if they don’t want their personal information turning up in the wrong hands.

With few guidelines provided by social networking sites and e-mail host servers about which information to share over the Internet, Facebook’s growing popularity among young, unassuming users is concerning.

But posting personal information online isn’t necessarily dangerous, as long as users are careful about who can access it. Comparing Facebook use to displaying the contents of one’s wallet on the street is extreme, because closed-profile options are available to those who know how to use them.

Online identity theft presents a risk, but potential predators can also glean much of the same information working with what’s provided in the phone book. And although the information age has made access to personal data more instant and widespread, banks have also increased security measures.

The Internet’s power to share information is valuable and shouldn’t come under fire. But the future of social networking technology rests with the decisions we make today. As the generation pioneering Facebook use, it’s important to assert the control we have to protect our profiles.

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