Are Online Profiles a Danger to Personal Privacy?

New study reveals adults unknowingly leave themselves open to social networking identity theft

Are Online Profiles a Danger to Personal Privacy?

New study reveals adults unknowingly leave themselves open to social networking identity theft

Irvine, Calif., Jan. 25, 2010 — The rapid proliferation of the use of social networking sites among adults 45 and older, combined with the revealing results of a recent study commissioned by™, Experian’s multilayered identity theft detection, protection and fraud resolution product, demonstrates the need for awareness and education surrounding identity theft stemming from information people post online. According to this study, 75 percent of respondents over the age of 45 actively utilize an online social network, yet alarmingly, more than half are not adequately protecting themselves from fraud.1

Users are both willingly and unknowingly sharing personal information online, increasing their susceptibility to identity theft. With social networking sites continually implementing changes to their privacy settings, a need exists for education to help decrease the risk of theft.

Too much information is divulged within online profiles. Many adults list a wealth of valuable personally identifiable information on social networking sites. For example, 14 percent of adults surveyed list their home address within their profiles, including an alarming 20 percent of respondents ages 60 and above. Furthermore, nearly half of those polled reveal some type of family or relationship information on their pages. Such actions clearly result in an increased vulnerability when even a simple e-mail address can aid an identity thief in creating background profiles for unsuspecting users.

Customization of privacy settings is essential for increased protection. The danger of posting personal information is intensified when users neglect to customize their profile privacy settings. Survey data reveals that nearly 35 percent of those polled do not adjust their personal settings. Privacy policies for top social networking sites afford users great flexibility in tailoring their privacy preferences; however, failure to do so will leave these users at high levels of risk.

“The reality of widespread social networking necessitates an overall awareness of the associated risks and potential for identity theft,” said Jennifer Leuer, general manager of “Individuals must be thoughtful about the information they choose to share and use privacy settings to share that information with a close network, to deter those looking to exploit this data for personal gain.”

Be wary of quiz originators. More than 50 percent of those surveyed have played games and answered quizzes through their social networks, not realizing the potential for risk if not properly vetted. These applications are highly prevalent and oftentimes created by third parties not affiliated with the social network. Although many applications of this type can be considered safe, it is critical to recognize the red flags involved with potentially risky examples. As a rule, avoid all quizzes or games where personal information is requested. Common examples of such information include one’s full name, address, education background, pet’s names or hometown. Accepting these programs can result in the distribution of not only your personal information, but that of your friends and colleagues as well, putting all involved parties at risk.

Minimize risk and protect valuable information. On a positive note, 75 percent of respondents have previously considered the risk of identity theft via social networks. However, this has not translated to a widespread, proactive movement toward protection. In order to help educate social network users, offers these tips for protection against online fraud:

  • Limit detail. Avoid posting personally identifiable information on social networking sites, including but not limited to: hometown and home addresses, work specifics, phone numbers, educational background and information about children via profiles and through photo identification.
  • Customize and protect. Research your social network’s default account settings and make sure to customize your personal privacy settings for optimal protection.
  • Mind your g’s and q’s (games and quizzes). Before taking a quiz or playing a game, make sure you know it’s from a reputable source. Sharing your own or your friends’ personal information in online quizzes of questionable origin gives third-party access to data that you may believe to be secure.
  • Create the perfect password. For your social network login, do not use passwords that incorporate publicly known information.

About is a leading, full-service provider of proactive identity theft detection, protection and fraud resolution. offers comprehensive identity theft protection products supported by experienced identity theft resolution professionals who deliver personal attention that customers can rely on. is a Website owned by, Inc., an Experian company. For more information about how helps consumers protect themselves against identity theft, please visit

1Survey conducted by Impulse Research in December 2009

Matt Lifson
Edelman PR
1 323 202 1047 Telephone Email

About Experian®
Experian is the leading global information services company, providing data and analytical tools to clients in more than 65 countries. The company helps businesses to manage credit risk, prevent fraud, target marketing offers and automate decision making. Experian also helps individuals to check their credit report and credit score and protect against identity theft.

Experian plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange (EXPN) and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 index. Total revenue for the year ended March 31, 2009, was $3.9 billion. Experian employs approximately 15,000 people in 40 countries and has its corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, with operational headquarters in Nottingham, UK; Costa Mesa, California; and São Paulo, Brazil.

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