The Five Biggest Facebook Blunders

Any number of people can use the information you post on Facebook, or other social-networking sites, against you or the ones you love. Here are five of the biggest blunders to avoid with your Facebook account.

Face it, Facebook is an identity thief’s dream.

Most Facebook members freely post their full names (including maiden name), home towns, complete birthdates, spouses’ and children’s names -- and the most recent photos to accompany them all. With such a wealth of identifiable information about yourself and your family, along with other insights you post about you (where you went to school, your pet’s name, your workplace, etc.), you’re practically handing an identity thief the key to your finances. “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” is no longer such a tough security question to crack — the answer can probably be found with just a few clicks around your Facebook page.

These days, prospective employers, divorce lawyers, college admissions officers and potential thieves are just a few of the people who could use the information you post on Facebook, or other social-networking sites, against you or the ones you love. Here are five of the biggest blunders to avoid with your Facebook account.

1. Too Much Information (TMI).

Social-networking sites are not digital vaults: Both Facebook and Twitter received an “F” for basic security functions in a report card by nonprofit think tank Digital Society. (Just keying in the terms “hack” and “Facebook” in your search engine is enough to set off alarm bells.)

So the safest way to approach sharing information -- even your sensitive account information -- is to assume that everyone in the world can see it. If you wouldn’t share a comment, photo, or any other tidbit of information about your life (or the lives of your friends and family) with a complete stranger on the street, then don’t post it to Facebook.

2. Easy to Crack Passwords.

No doubt you’ve seen at least one of your friends frantically post a warning on Facebook that he or she wasn’t responsible for an earlier post that was published under your friend’s name. The fraudulent posts typically include a link that may take you to a scam website or even unlock sensitive information from your Facebook profile when you click on it.

Most security experts say any password is hackable by determined thieves, but there’s no reason to make it easy for them. Find tips for creating secure passwords here, then mark your calendar and regularly change passwords for all of your password-protected accounts.

3. Making Your Photos Public.

Your kids may think their wild party photos are hysterical, but they could come back to haunt them. A 2008 survey of 320 college admissions officers by Kaplan found that, among those who consulted websites for prospective candidates, an applicant's web information made a positive impression about 25% of the time -- and a negative impression was made 38% of the time.

But photos displaying inappropriate behavior aren’t the only dangerous pics to haphazardly share on social-networking sites. Family photos that provide more than just a glimpse of your home’s interior and photos that feature expensive purchases can be used by thieves to case your home. Photos of young children can also be seen by child molesters if not properly protected.

Bottom line: Make sure all of your pictures are kept from prying eyes by using Facebook’s photo privacy settings. (Better yet, don’t post them at all.)

4. Broadcasting Your Travel Schedule.

Going on a long-awaited vacation? Leaving for a week on a business trip to an exciting or exotic locale? The urge to share (or gloat) about it to your friends may be strong. By sharing that information, however, a potential thief -- perhaps even someone you know -- now knows when, and for how long, your home will be empty. Why bother taking the time to have the U.S. Post Office stop sending your mail when you’re on Facebook broadcasting to the world that nobody’s home? Save the all the gloat-worthy detailsabout your trip until after you’ve safely arrived home.

5. Drunk Posting. The website TextsFromLastNight.com posts anonymous texts messages from people (mainly college students) who clearly were not 100% sober when they made them -- often with embarrassingly comical results. When you “drunk post” to Facebook, however, you’re inviting the world to join in your bender, including potentially your boss, your business partner, your prospective employer, your college admissions officer and others who could look upon the information negatively. Even a teetotaler can look like a lush after having a drink or two and making an ill-advised Facebook post. To avoid trouble, turn off the computer before you start drinking and then avoid posting until after the hangover has passed.