Social media sites have redefined the way a lot of people use the internet. Where it used to be suspicious for people to know information about you, it’s now becoming so common that many of us are letting our guards down. Face it, thanks to social media, I can find out where you like to shop, what you ate for dinner last, what movie you saw last week, and more. It’s easy to find out where your kids go to school and what soccer teams they play on. Even better, some social media sites actually provide real-time information of where you are…physically.

The strange thing is that this is the information users are sharing knowingly and intentionally. This isn’t secret hidden data that a hacker can pull out of a computer, this is stuff that people purposely tell their social media contacts about.

And while willing use of social media is hardly a Big Brother situation, users need to understand that hackers are all too happy to grab as much personal information about you as they can, then use those puzzle pieces to complete the picture of your identity.

One important step begins even before you have your account. Give as little information as possible in order to establish the account, and keep a close lid on information that is too personal. Remember that your credit card company might want your mother’s maiden name as your security question, so don’t use that question on Facebook to establish your account. It’s understandable that people might want to find you by knowing what high school you went to, but do they really need to know your last three jobs, your church, your hometown, and your current profession?

Never click an email link from someone sent to you over social media unless you know the person well and you have verified that the link is something that person intentionally sent you. There are a number of scams in which your friend’s account gets hacked and the criminal sends the link to everyone in your friend’s contacts list. That link isn’t a cute video of a puppy playing with a garden hose, instead it’s a landing page that’s installing malware on your computer, snapping up your personal information.

Some of the worst behaviors online actually come from people who aren’t trying to overshare, but do so accidentally. Did you really just announce to the entire internet that you’re going on vacation to Hawaii next week and won’t be home for five days? Locally, popular sites like FourSquare let you “check in” at different places from your smartphone, sometimes to earn free discounts. Unfortunately, you just told would-be criminals that you’re standing in line to see the new action movie that just came out, but what they read was, “I have two hours and six minutes, plus driving time, until I’ll be back home.”

Even more frightening is the connections thieves can make between your posts. If you’ve posted pictures of your toddlers on your account, for example, those criminals also know you probably didn’t bring that toddler with you and he’s home with a babysitter. By checking in at that movie theater, they also know your hometown and where you go for entertainment.

Speaking of those pictures, it’s important to know that sharing photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites can have a very serious consequence if you took them with your smartphone and uploaded them. Unless you have turned off the GPS setting in your phone, any pictures you take will be coded with the coordinates to where that picture was taken. Did you just post a picture of your family eating on the back deck, or your daughter’s school play? The coordinates to that picture were posted with the photo, telling criminals where your house or your child’s school is located. You couldn’t have done them a bigger favor than if you’d actually drawn a map.

Social media is a great tool, and can even just be a lot of fun. But it can’t be beneficial if it leads to criminal activity against you and your identity. Take precautions to protect your accounts and your safety, and when it doubt, don’t post it.

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