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How to Protect Yourself on Social Networks

Worries about sacrificing safety and privacy keep many from joining social media sites every day. This isn't irrational, because creating public profiles does increase the odds you or your information will be targeted. When it comes to developing one's career and network, however, jumping into these unknown, online waters is often a necessary risk job seekers must take.

Luckily, there are tricks to keeping yourself safer while making the most of sites like LinkedIn, as well as other social networks and employment-focused websites. You'll still need to be cautious, but the tips below can help.

Use a secure password and two-factor authentication

These rules apply to virtually every site that requires user login information. First, always create the most secure and complex password you'll be able to remember. This should already be your practice, but it's extra important to follow on sites like LinkedIn.

Some sites may give the option for multi-factor authentication, which can entail entering a second PIN sent to you via email or text message, or providing a predetermined piece of information only you would know. On LinkedIn, this is called "two-step verification," and it's found in your account settings under "Login and security."

If you've subscribed to become a "Premium" LinkedIn user, that means the site has your payment information. This significantly raises the stakes of a potential account breach. Additionally, if you've taken advantage of the feature that syncs your LinkedIn to a Microsoft account or social profiles like Twitter, you've opened the door to them being simultaneously compromised. Since much data is shared between synced profiles behind the scenes, if you're worried about a breach, consider desyncing accounts or tweaking the passwords and security settings of each.

Learn how to spot a fake profile

Assuming others' identities is a typical practice among scammers online, even on LinkedIn.

"There's a common scam where someone will create a fake profile of someone you already know," says John Roccia, director of career services at career coaching firm Ama La Vida. "A friend request might say something like, 'Hey, I got locked out of my other account and had to delete it. Can you accept this?'"

Fraud like this may be seen all over the web, but there are LinkedIn-specific tells that might give imposters away. Namely:

  • If their photo perfectly matches (and was likely stolen from) the real person's profile.
  • They're not active in groups or lack connections, especially with people you mutually know.
  • Their profile lacks endorsements or recommendations.
  • If their location, contact info  or other text on their profile contain unusual errors.
  • They are not a Premium user, unlike the person whose profile they've copied.

Mind your privacy settings

While the level of one's privacy settings sometimes has more to do with personal preference than ensuring safety, it's important to be aware of what people can see of your profiles. On LinkedIn, your entire profile is visible to everyone by default.

This may be ideal for those wanting to maximize their online reach while networking, but for anyone wanting more privacy or to entice others to connect with their profile by withholding information, make sure you tweak your settings to adjust what people can and can't see. For example, make sure your email address and phone number are only visible on your profile if you want them to be.

Be aware that you can individually manage the visibility of different profile sections, who you've connected with, or whether you're currently active or offline. Liking and commenting on posts, being mentioned or tagged by others, changes made to your profile, and more are also automatically telegraphed to all who follow you (unless you deliberately disallow each in your settings).

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