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7 tips for using social media sites safely

10 March 2016 ( 20 March 2018 )

Keep your personal information safe with our 7 top tips for protecting your privacy on social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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Avoid clicking on links in messages, tweets, posts, and online advertising. These may be links to viruses or other forms of malicious content

If you are feeling concerned about your social media privacy settings, read on for some useful tips to help you enjoy social media more safely.

While social networking sites are great for keeping in touch and making new friends, they’re also a boon for anyone looking to harvest personal information, for whatever purpose. 

Sharing too much information on a social network may leave you at risk of identity theft – and even home burglary. 

Follow our top social networking tips to help safeguard your privacy.

1. Make use of privacy settings

Read the site’s privacy policy and use its privacy and security settings to control who can see your personal information.

Facebook, for example, offers controls over who can see your basic or full profile, your posts and photos and what appears in your timeline. 

How to change your privacy settings on Facebook

At the top of the page you'll see a blue banner running across the top. To the far right you'll find a dropdown arrow. Click it and then click 'Settings'. From there you can get to 'Privacy'. Set everything so that only friends can see your information - you generally want to avoid anything being open to Public view. 

Doing this will help keep your information safer, but we can never be completely confident that our data is safe. If people allow personality quiz apps to access all their data, then that includes their friend lists. So even if you don't allow any third party apps to have access to your profile, your friends could be inadvertently allowing that. 

How to change your Facebook newsfeed

And even if you're pretty sure you've never fallen for a trap like this, did you know that if you have allowed a third party app access to your Facebook profile at any point since joining the site, it could still be working away in the background, collecting data? With some profiles now notching up a decade of existence, who knows what you might have clicked on ten years ago?

Luckily, you can find out quite easily...

How to manage apps on Facebook

Go back to that arrow at the top right of your blue banner and click 'Settings' again. This time click 'Apps'.

Here you'll find the wording: 'On Facebook, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username and user ID are always publicly available to both people and apps.  Apps also have access to your Friends list and any information that you choose to make public.'

A little unnerving. 

Are you surprised at how many apps have access to your profile? Just click the X to remove them and you're suddenly a lot more secure. 

But as stated before, you never can be too careful, which leads us nicely into our next point. 

Five scams to steal your identity

2. Don’t overshare

You probably know much better than to broadcast your mother's maiden name or the name of your first pet, and you might sensibly choose not to disclose your birthday (how much are the half-hearted birthday wishes from someone you briefly worked with seven years ago worth anyway?) but do you avoid giving details of upcoming holidays? 

Criminals scour social networks to find empty houses to burgle.

So for that reason, whilst you're away, try to resist sharing holiday snaps. Some insurers may refuse a claim if you’ve broadcast your vacant home on Facebook or other social accounts.

In general, don’t post personal details, such as your phone number or home address. Avoid posting photos of your home that make it easy to identify where you live.

Saga Home Insurance provides cover that goes beyond what you might expect. For more information and to get a quote click here.

3. It’s not a popularity contest

Don’t accept every friend or follower request you get – only connect with people you know in real life or whose identity you know is genuine. 

Criminals create fake online accounts in order to befriend others and harvest personal information.

So if you receive a friend request from someone you thought you were already friends with, don't blindly accept them - don your virtual deerstalker and do a bit of detective work. First, see if you can find the profile you thought you already linked to. If your friend is still on your list without you having accepted the new request, then the new request is more than likely an interloper. Report them to Facebook to be deleted, and tell your friend about the infraction too so they can advise the other people on their friend list to keep everyone safe. 

Where possible always follow social media accounts that have a white tick in a light blue circle next to their name. This means they are an officially verified account. 

You can follow the official Saga Facebook page here and the official Saga Twitter account here.

If, reading this, you realise you've accepted a friend request from someone you'd rather not have access to your profile, find out how to unfriend on Facebook.

4. Be wary of links

Avoid clicking on links in messages, tweets, posts, and online advertising. These may be links to viruses or other forms of malicious content.

5. Don’t link accounts

Many websites and apps give you the option to ‘Log in with Facebook’, rather than creating a separate account. But by doing this, your social network may share all the information it holds about you, including the date and place of your birth, your email address and employment details, along with photos. 

Furthermore, with just one log-in for multiple sites, if one site is hacked, then all your accounts are compromised too.

6. Use a separate email

On that note, you could even go one step further and create a separate email account to use with each social network. That way, your main email account is protected from any spam or phishing email you may receive.

Signs an email may be a scam

7. Use strong passwords

You've heard it again and again - use a separate password for each social account. 

Make it at least eight digits long and a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. 

You probably don't use separate passwords because passwords are, by their very nature, hard to remember.

So to get round it, and avoid having a massive tome filled with passwords, you could devise yourself a code only you know.

For example, you could assign each vowel an animal, then take the first vowel of the website's name to start creating a truly unique password. Perhaps combine it with the number of letters in the website's name, giving you something no one could guess.

With this code, your Facebook password becomes AntEight8. Twitter becomes IguanaSeven7. 

And for an extra layer of safety, choose a username that doesn’t help identify you, such as maryjsmith_1961.

Seven password mistakes to avoid

Visit our Motoring section for information on cars, caravans and motorbikes. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.