Over 16 million people are registered with Friends Reunited and it's estimated that 28 million are members of Facebook, but according to leading instant online credit information provider, Equifax, many are leaving themselves open to ID fraud.
The latest survey on social networking, conducted by Equifax in support of National Identity Fraud Prevention Week (8th-14th October) reveals that 30% of respondents do not make use of the security settings on these sites.
Equifax's latest survey suggests that users of Facebook, Myspace, Friends Reunited and the other social networking sites now proliferating the web could be a prime – and easy - target for fraudsters.
"Our survey revealed that of those using social networking sites, 87% have their full name and 38% their date of birth on their profile" confirmed Neil Munroe, External Affairs Director, Equifax.
"27% place their education history online and 26% do the same with their work history. What people don't seem to realise is how valuable this information is.
The fact is these sites can act like a directory for fraudsters.
"It's terrifying how little information fraudsters need to be able to open accounts in an individual's name, rack up huge debts and leave the victim, at best to spend hundreds of hours sorting out the problem and at worse, picking up the bill. Although all these sites provide users with security measures, our survey found that 30% don't use them and a startling 65% make their email address public, also making them a prime target for phishing and scammers.
"Men seem to be more relaxed about giving away personal contact details, like address, telephone number and email than women. 68% of men surveyed said they put their personal email details on social network sites. And 13% put their address on these sites. But oddly, when it comes to date of birth, women seem happier to give away this information which can be the real key to opening the door for ID fraudsters. 45% of women said they put this information on social network sites, compared to 34% of men."
Equifax's survey shows that many people put a lot of trust in email with 27% admitting to clicking on a link from someone they don't know.
In addition, 14% think they are on a secure website if it's owned by a well known company.
Yet fraudsters running phishing scams can easily create a branded site that masquerades as the real thing, fooling people to enter their account details.
When it comes to the different generations, the Equifax survey found that those in their 20s, whilst being more au fait with social networking were also more casual with their personal information, compared to those in their 40s and 50s.
Of the younger generation, 65% have a social networking site, with 96% storing their name and 53% their date of birth.
Only 24% of 40 and 50 year olds have a social networking site, with 71% storing their name and 30% their date of birth, making them a bit more careful with their personal information.
And that was true too of those using security settings. 29% of 20 year olds said they don't use them, with just 17% of the older generation admitting this.
The regional picture of social networkers isn't much better. Those in the South East appear to be the most profligate with their email details – a real open door for phishers and fraudsters.
73% of South Eastern social networkers said they put their email details on these sites, compared to just 57% of Scottish social networkers.
But social networkers from the Midlands appear to be the most careless with their telephone number, with 26% saying they put this on their pages compared to just 3% from Scotland and 13% from the South East.
However, Londoners weren't far behind with 41% putting their date of birth on social network sites and 19% providing their telephone number.
Equifax Top Tips for Using Social Network Sites
- Don't include common verification such as your date of birth or your mothers maiden name
- Set up privacy on your profile so only close friends can view your information
- If you are going on holiday or you will be left in your home alone, don't put it on your site. This could leave you vulnerable to break ins
- Potential partners and employers are often searching names on these sites. Don't put anything on your site which could ruin your chances of a new job or boyfriend/girlfriend
- Be wary of anyone you meet on these sites. The photo may be deceptive and they may have different intentions