Social media platforms are all the rage. Everyone from corporate entities, major league sports teams, political parties, even your third grade teacher may have accounts of some form now. They’re a useful tool for everything from catching up with old or out of town friends to sharing information about a company’s products or brand. Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of platforms and they function in an equally wide variety of ways. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can accidentally open yourself up to headaches.

As more novices take to social media, identity thieves have found easy ways to take advantage of these people’s lack of experience or understanding. Users can open themselves up to troublesome behaviors like account hacking or inadvertent sharing of malicious information. Some of the behaviors can even result in your computer being damaged or destroyed by a virus after clicking on an inappropriate link.

Typically, someone who hacks an average person’s Twitter account is not doing it to attack the individual, but is trying to gain access to the account holder’s contacts or friends list. This includes actively hacking into the account in order to send out mass tweets with a link or a ridiculous product sales pitch. From time to time you might even see these tweets happening to friends who come across your Twitter feed, and it can leave you scratching your head in wonder.

However, individuals can be targeted by hackers and it can have serious consequences.

Last December, Justine Sacco, an executive with a high-profile publicity firm, was headed home for the holidays. She sent out a horribly racist tweet in an attempt to be funny, just as the doors closed on her plane. Without access to wifi on her seventeen hour flight, she had no idea that her tweet had gone viral and that Twitter users angrily demanded action. When she landed, she was shocked to see an angry mob waiting for her in the airport, and had only been off the plane for literally a few minutes when her boss called to tell her she was fired.

In Sacco’s case, she actually engaged in the offensive online behavior, but a number of celebrities have said their accounts had been hacked after an incident like hers. Whether true or not, the damage to their reputations has lasting effects. Even every day social media users have found themselves victims of account hacking that leads to unbelievable tweets or posts on their behalf and the consequences, as Sacco demonstrated, can be severe.

If you’re account has been hacked, Twitter offers you some guidelines on preventing future problems. The first step is to change your password, but remember to look for the email with confirmation of your change. If the situation is more serious than that, you can contact Twitter support for help.

As in many cases of identity theft, prevention will go a long way. Make sure you spend some time each week looking back through your own tweets to make sure that no offensive remarks have been sent out under your name. Be sure to delete any of these tweets so that they don’t pop up when an employer decides to check you out online.

More important, though, is maintaining a spotless record of good behavior online; whether it’s sharing an offensive joke, rampant use of profanity, or engaging in “troll”-like behaviors that amount to bullying, your genuine social media traffic can make you look more guilty if a thief hacks your account. It will be easier to convince your boss that you were hacked when he calls you into his office if the rest of your Twitter activity doesn’t border on offensive.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit