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Are Facebook applications safe?

Most college students use Facebook, a popular social networking Web site, on a daily basis. It’s a way of life. Friend someone, post pictures and messages on a friends wall; it has become a routine.

Recently, Facebook added applications such as bumper stickers and games that have made this popular Web site even more addictive. But did you know that adding those applications and playing those games could actually help someone steal your identity?

The recently added games such as Mob Wars and Triumph could help thieves empty one’s bank account and access personal information without that person even noticing.

Mob Wars, for example, has a link on its page called the Godfather, where the player is asked to fill out credit checks and car insurance loans in return for points. This is not a game; it’s real life and students should never give out their social security numbers.

In order to add these games, Facebook requires you to allow the access of personal information by the creators of the games. However, they also claim not to be reliable for anything that may be shared because these games are hosted on third-party Web sites.

“Facebook may contain links to other websites. We are of course not responsible for the privacy practices of other web sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects personally identifiable information,” Facebook reads.

Many of us get so tied up in the online world that we forget it does coexist with the real world. So the actions we partake in online can affect us in real life.

Identity theft is a major problem and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it affects 9 million people each year. This is why college students must be careful, because many of us believe we aren’t targets when, in fact, we are.

W. D. Kelly of the Federal Trade Commission in Washington D.C agrees that Facebook should not be allowing these applications.

“I personally wish none of these Web sites had this information on there. We wish that we could go back to the old days where you had to be face-to-face to apply for credit checks instead of filling out the information online,” Kelly said.

When it comes to the numerous credit card offers that students receive, be careful. Shred all applications that come in the mail because thieves will use these offers to open new accounts and empty life savings.

Rachel Marks, a former UM student, never expected someone to have access to her credit and debit card numbers. Now she has lots of purchases on them and can’t stop it.

“My parents were worried because the person who stole it might have actually called the bank and asked for another card. So they might have my social security number and I’m pretty scared that someone could have my identity,” she said.

It doesn’t just take playing a game and entering your information to assist these thieves. You can become a target by simply updating your away messages and contact information. Facebook has great privacy settings that can be changed to protect oneself from a thief and allow only personal friends to view such information.

A lot of students share information about themselves on Facebook, such as where they live or work and phone numbers. This actually can help thieves steal identities because anyone can find out where you are thanks to status updates and away messages. This enables anyone to break into homes because they know when someone is not there.

Senior Megan Anderson said she would never post her address or phone number on Facebook, but didn’t consider away messages.

“I have posted where I am at times in my away messages, but never thought that thieves could use those messages to break into my home and steal my personal information,” Anderson said.

College students can be vulnerable and oblivious to certain things. If you do believe someone has stolen or is trying to steal your identity, contact your bank and credit card companies to place a fraud alert on your account.

Kim Kocek, a senior, isn’t surpised that some Facebook applications require its users to provide personal information, but fears that her own privacy could be at risk.

“With Facebook, I think it’s clear that everything is out in the open, and although I never really thought about the applications accessing my information, it in no way surprises me,” she said.

Other students feel uncomfortable that their general information is publicly displayed on their Facebook profiles, although Facebook does enable its members to set customized privacy preferences in order to prevent this.

“I’m afraid because I don’t want people stealing my identity and [Facebook] is basically giving [identity thieves]an open door to it,” Allison Bernstein, a senior, said. “I have a lot of information on there that I wouldn’t want people I’m not friends with accessing.”

Tips to protect yourself from identity theft on a popular Web site such as Facebook:

Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.

Don’t list if you are going out of town.

Don’t post phone numbers, because someone could do a reverse look-up and get your address.

Don’t post your address, because they can find you and break into your home.

Never give out personal info on the phone or Internet.

Fix your Facebook privacy settings so no random people can access your accounts.

Protecting yourself at home and on your own:

Shred critical financial documents, don’t just throw them away

Don’t carry around your social security card in your wallet. If someone asks for your social security number, ask them why and if they cant give you a good answer then it’s probably not a good idea to give it to them.

If you do expect someone has stolen your identity, place a fraud alert on your account.

For more ways to protect yourself from identity theft, you can visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/about-identity-theft.html.

October 15, 2008

Reporters

Erin Lockwood

Contributing News Writer


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