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Social media sites are still going strong. We love to check in with faraway family, see what our friends are up to, and share our own activities Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information? Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information? Sharing has always been a prominent part of what the Internet is and how it functions. And with social networks exploding in popularity in the past several years, sharing is probably the one aspect we... Read More . But, staying safe while meeting new people online is crucial. There are a few simple ways you can protect yourself that do not take much time or effort, but could make a huge difference.

Watch What Your Profile Includes

Many social media sites and apps want to make it simple for you to join. These may not request many details when creating an account or setting up a profile.

For example, Instagram asks for basic information, unless you prefer to use your Facebook account. You can sign up with just your name, a username and password, and your email address (which is kept private). Other details in your profile are optional such as phone number, gender, and biography.

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When it comes to the optional information, think carefully before sharing it. Ask yourself, is there a reason they need this? Will these details be kept private? What might they do with this information 7 Fascinating Ways Researchers Are Using Social Media 7 Fascinating Ways Researchers Are Using Social Media Scientific researchers are flocking to social media as sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are an opportunity to observe people interacting with each other and social phenomena in an online "natural environment". Read More ? Check their terms and policies along with settings available to you for your own privacy.

Social media apps may require you to enable your location. Others might require your cell phone number. If you are joining a site that requires personal information that you are uncomfortable sharing, then do not do it.

Research New Social Media Sites

It seems that new social media sites take a stab at joining the market all the time. But, if they are truly brand new, make sure that you do your research before creating an account and handing over your personal information 9 Things You Should Never Share on Social Media 9 Things You Should Never Share on Social Media Be careful what you share on social media because you never know when something could come back and ruin your life. Even the most innocent posts could be used against you. Read More .

Search Online

Jump onto your favorite search engine, pop in the name of the site, and see what types of results you get. You may see forums with comments from people regarding the site. You might even spot red flags right in the results. Remember, there is no harm in conducting a quick search.

Ask Around

Are any of your close friends on the new site that interests you? If so, definitely get their thoughts on it. But if not, you may want to hold off a bit before joining and also ask your pals if they have even heard of it. After all, if the point is to be social, wouldn’t you like at least one of your friends there too?

Get Referrals from Friends

If you receive requests from people that you do not know, give them a good once-over. As examples, on Facebook, you can see if you have mutual friends and on Twitter, you can see who else they follow.

Image Credit: Yury Zap via Shutterstock.com
Image Credit: Yury Zap via Shutterstock.com

If you do notice that you have other friends in common, then check with one of those friends. Do not just rely on fact that you are mutually connected. There is nothing wrong with saying “Hey Jim, I got a request from so-and-so, but I don’t recognize the name”. This is just one way to find out who the person is and how they possibly know you before you accept.

Check Your Accounts Often

You probably use one or two social media sites more than others. Maybe you log into Twitter each day Twitter Safety Center: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family While Tweeting Twitter Safety Center: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family While Tweeting Twitter has launched a new initiative to address the matters of safety concerns, privacy concerns, kids' security concerns, and so on. Read More , but only check Pinterest once a month. For those that you visit often, you would likely notice odd activity right away. But, for those that you only visit occasionally, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them.

For example, some sites are playgrounds for shifty activity on user accounts. If you suddenly receive a message from someone you never chat with that makes you wonder why, it is cause for suspicion. Or, if you receive a new request from a person that you are already connected to, it could be a spoofed account. Both of these things have happened to me, more than once, and they were frauds in each case.

Image Credit: John Young via Shutterstock.com
Image Credit: John Young via Shutterstock.com

Knowing that these kinds of activities take place, checking your own accounts often is smart. Look for strange occurrences such as posts you did not create or unusual messages. If you suspect that one of your own accounts has been tampered with, follow up with the site for appropriate action.

Warning Signs

When you are chatting with someone new online, there are several warning signs that you should keep in mind. If you happen to notice one or more of these, then it is wise to take a step back.

Image Credit: CarmenKarin via Shutterstock.com
Image Credit: CarmenKarin via Shutterstock.com

Beware of someone who:

  • Asks personal questions too early in the relationship
  • Asks for your physical address or phone number
  • Begins rapidly following you on all of your other social media accounts
  • Contradicts what they have told you about themselves
  • Seems to know things about you that you did not share with them

One of the Biggest Dangers

The National Crime Prevention Council offers a wonderful article with advice, precautions, and dangers. Although the article is geared towards how to help teens 7 Family Safety Tools To Keep Your Kids Safe Online 7 Family Safety Tools To Keep Your Kids Safe Online Like the real world, the internet can sometimes be a scary place for your kids. There are some great apps and tools to keep them safe; here are some we think are the best. Read More with social networking safety, this information is valuable to everyone.

One of the biggest dangers discussed is “He’s not who you think he is”:

Social networking sites make it very easy to pretend to be someone else. Even if an individual may be friends with someone on the site, anyone can take control of a user’s account if he or she can obtain the user’s password. As a result, someone who is a “Friend” can ask for money or gain personal information that can be used to hack into other accounts.

Just Be Cautious

You do not have to run out and perform a background check on every new person you meet online. And, there are security measures that go much deeper 8 Tips for Online Safety Used by Security Experts 8 Tips for Online Safety Used by Security Experts Want to stay safe online? Then forget everything you think you know about passwords, antivirus and online security because it's time to be retrained. Here's what the experts actually do. Read More than these, of course. But, these tips are just very simple ways to keep yourself a little safer with those new connections.

How Do You Play It Safe?

Are there specific precautions that you take to stay safe when meeting new people online? Maybe you limit the number of social sites you join, do not accept requests unless you know the person well, or only join sites recommended by friends.

Let us know in the comments below the simple ways that you play it safe!

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  1. Zhong
    December 19, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    This is an interesting question. If someone connects you on Linkedin, should you accept?

    Now there's an article about how making new connections is good for you since this is a community but I don't deny the obvious signs: no profile pic or blur images, vague employment histories, small connections..etc.

    • Sandy Stachowiak
      December 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

      Zhong,

      You bring up an excellent point with LinkedIn. We are encouraged to make new, professional connections. So, there is a fine line with that community.

      Personally, if I see a request that doesn't make sense to me, I check it out as much as possible and sometimes just leave it alone without accepting or rejecting for the short term. This is only because they could be new to LinkedIn and not keen on things yet.

      But, as a general rule, if something looks shady, makes me feel uncomfortable, and if I see no real reason for the connection, I just pass on it. Go with your gut.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Sandy