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Family Money

Innocent online chats, blogs, videos, and other interactions are like breadcrumbs that identity thieves can follow to the feast. That makes social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook a 24-hour buffet. The thieves will keep coming back for more, as long as most Americans continue to ignore some simple precautions.

One glaring example is that 83% of the adults who use social networking sites download unknown files to their personal computers, according to a 2006 survey of American adult Internet users. The survey, co-sponsored by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), focused on social networking behaviors that open doorways for hackers and thieves to steal identities and cause other mayhem.

Your financial identity is worth protecting, and you must be especially vigilant if you are active on social networking sites or posting your resume online.

Start with these precautions:

• Assume that everything you post on social networking sites will be visible to everyone. And don't assume they won't know it's you— at the very least, adjust your profile so your blogs and other materials are available only to "friends" to whom you grant access. That doesn't guarantee security, but it's a start.

• Don't click on links or attachments in e-mails unless you know what they are and who sent them. If you get unsolicited e-mail asking for personal data such as your Social Security number or financial account numbers—for any reason—report it to www.fraud.org and delete it.

• Use only trusted, secure Web sites when you enter sensitive personal information online. Rather than cut and paste links from e-mails, type the Web address in directly. Once there, look for "https" in the URL and a lockedpadlock icon in the frame of your browser window.

• Use a spam filter, virus scanner, and firewall on your computer, and keep them updated. If you work from a wireless router, secure it with a password.

• Know what your children are doing online. If they are active on social networking sites, visit their site regularly to see what's going on, and insist that they guard their identities—and yours.

If you get unsolicited e-mail asking for personal data such as your Social Security number or
financial account numbers—for any reason—report it to www.fraud.org.

The Federal Trade Commission's identity theft Web site (www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft) also has useful information.

Scott E. Pettyjohn, LUTCF, CLTC
Financial Advisor
Special Care Planner
NSWC Financial Services
2004 Augustine Avenue
Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401
540-361-2216

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