Social networking is being embraced by millions and is continuing to grow all over the world. For example, in the UK alone, there are 10 million users on Twitter; it’s even overtaken the numbers who buy a daily newspaper.

Despite the fun and information it provides, there is also a downside. The more we share personal information with these platforms, the more we increase the risk of being a victim of identity theft. We can all experience the mindset that ‘it couldn’t happen to me’, but the truth is that it could and it’s happening more regularly than ever before.

Criminals are taking advantage by getting hold of personal details; allowing them to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards and loans. They can even secure official documents such as passports and driving licenses – all in your name.

The Javelin research on social media and mobile, forming the new fraud frontier, states that identity theft rose by 13% in 2011. LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and Facebook users have the highest incidence of fraud. It all sounds rather scary, but before you rush to hit the de-activate button I have my top five tips to help you carry on being socially immersed and remain safe.

  1. Consider unique user names and passwords for each profile. I understand that there are already too many passwords to remember, but consider using password manager software or an online data safe.
  2. If you are active in social media, minimise the use of personal information on your profiles that may be used for password verification or phishing attacks. Furthermore, make sure you look at the privacy settings and if possible make your profile private to just your connections.
  3. Avoid listing the following information publicly: date of birth, home town, home address, the year of graduation and your primary e-mail address.
  4. Create a separate email account just for password reminders and online account details. It offers an extra level of protection if your usual email account is hacked.
  5. When using a website that asks for sensitive personal information (address, phone number, bank details, etc) always look for the padlock symbol that should be displayed. This means that the website is encrypting the Internet connection. If it isn’t there, then don’t fill in any forms asking you for personal information.

With these five tips you should be able to safely take advantage of social networking. Remember there is no delete button on the Internet. Take the extra 30 seconds to think twice about what you are going to post, before publishing something you may later regret. Best of luck!