Widely used social media sites offer scammers and spammers powerful new tools to spam you, maybe steal your identity, or perhaps do something more malicious. With new routes for them to find you, along with veritable goldmines of data within social media networks, some good old advice 2.0 can help you protect yourself from annoyance, identity theft, fraud or worse.
Keep it to yourself. Don't give out personally identifying information. This applies to social networks which you think only include friends, just like it does to unsolicited emails. In addition to your social security number or any banking information, don't give out your full name, your address or your phone number. This information can be very helpful to someone looking to steal your identity. Also, for social networking sites, consider choosing a user name that is not your actual name. And remember that tweeting to the world where you are or where you are going can allow someone you'd prefer not meet to locate you or perhaps to spend some time with your house while you're on vacation. Also guard your log-in information for any social media network. Like they have done with many a website, "phishers" have thrown out lures of what appear to be actual MySpace, Facebook or Twitter webpages asking for your log-in information. They want it so they can hijack your account, mine it for any valuable information in your network and/or propagate spam (or more malicious) messages that will appear to come from you.
Beware of strangers. What's good for kids at the playground is good for all of us online. That fetching man or woman who wants to friend you on Facebook might not be so friendly. False friends might be spammers just looking to get some traffic to their links, or they could have much more malicious goals. If you don't know them, and can't verify who they are from anyone you know and trust, don't friend them. Also know who you follow on Twitter. In addition to spam, tweets can contain malicious links. (See discussion below about knowing where you're going.)
Beware of friends bearing strange gifts. We all have some strange friends. But when you receive messages from a friend bearing a subject line you would never imagine to come from that friend, think before you click. The same goes for an out of character tweet from someone you know. An incredible deal on Viagra coming from a friend unlikely to push Viagra on you is a good sign that your friend's account has been hijacked. Be particularly careful not to click on any links in such a message. It could be simple spam, but might have more nefarious ends, such as putting malicious programs onto your computer.
If taking a short cut, know where you are going. Web site addresses (urls) sometimes get really long. To address this, nice tools such as tinyurl, bit.ly and others came along and now allow us to provide a link with a shortened url. The problem is, however, that shortening the url can allow a scammer or spammer to mask where they are actually pointing you. Some of the shortening tools allow you to preview the actual url, however not all do. Preview the url if possible before proceeding. If you can't see where the link is going, don't go there.
Know your privacy options and proceed accordingly. Social media tools allow you to adjust the level of privacy you want. Review the options and choose the highest level of privacy settings that will still allow the tool to serve its purpose for you. For example, you can get notifications allowing you to block any potential Twitter follower. Or you can adjust your Facebook privacy settings so that your basic listing (and photo) won't be publicly found through search engines. But these are often not the default settings, so find out exactly what your options are. If the privacy protections aren't enough for you, don't use the system. Otherwise, once you've chosen the privacy settings you desire, keep them in mind while you use the system. Also examine your web browser privacy settings, and consider upgrading to a newer browser which might offer more robust protections.