The number of people using social networking sites has exploded in the last year. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. online households use sites like Facebook and Myspace-twice as many as a year ago-according to a just-released Consumer Reports survey.
And almost 10% have experienced some kind of security breach, including identity theft.
Elana Rivel was stunned and frightened when she found out someone was impersonating her online. It was an old college friend who tipped her off.
Rives says, "He said that someone had sent him a chat message from me on Facebook and through my e-mail account that said I was in London with my family and I had been held up at gunpoint."
Elana's friend immediately suspected that the message he received was bogus and that Elana's account had been hacked.
Kim Kleeman of Consumer Reports says, "Elana's friend did exactly the right thing. When he became suspicious, he found a way to get through to the real Elana. And she immediately had that Facebook and e-mail account closed."
So that doesn't happen to you, Consumer Reports says the best ways to protect your identity: Create a hard-to-guess password using upper and lowercase letters mixed in with numbers. Leave your birth year off your profile to help prevent identity theft. And definitely use the site's privacy controls.
Kleeman says, "We found that one in four households using Facebook either doesn't know about or doesn't choose to use privacy controls. Not using such controls can expose your pictures and other information to just about anybody on the Internet."
To set the controls on Facebook, go to your "Account" on the upper right of the screen. Pick "Privacy Settings" and then decide what you want to share and with whom.
For instance, "photos and videos" could be for "Only Friends" or "Friends of Friends."
As for Elana, she's re-opened her Facebook account. But she says she's using a stronger password and plans on changing it frequently to thwart hackers.
Consumer Reports says posting information about going on vacation or business trips is another mistake people make.
That leaves you vulnerable to break-ins.