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Next time someone pokes you on Facebook, make sure they aren’t really trying to do you serious harm.

A recent report from the FBI shows that nearly 4,000 people have had their social networking accounts hacked since 2006. On top of this, there were 72,000 complaints last year about Internet fraud, with losses totaling more than a quarter billion dollars.

Even more worrisome is the fact that scammers operate with a 70 percent success rate on social networking sites. In other words, once a scammer sets their mouse on your name, they usually get the information they want from you.

CNN reports that a scam attack usually “starts with a friend updating his or her status or sending you a message with an innocent link or video… All you have to do is click.”

When users do click, they are often “lured to fake Web sites that tricks them into divulging personal details and passwords.” Once scammers get your information, they can hack into your online accounts and have an easier time hacking into your friends’ accounts.

But as the FBI reports, even when users don’t click, they risk giving up important personal information through their profiles. Publicizing your phone number and e-mail address can help scammers get into your various online and offline accounts, and if you include your birthday or address on your Facebook or MySpace profile, scammers can use this to help guess your password.

According to, one of the most common scam techniques is for predators to set up fake accounts on sites, from which they try to befriend you. So, the next time Alec Baldwin or Jesus Christ tries to friend you, think twice. Other popular tactics include spam and installing updates on your site.

The first step to protecting yourself is to be conservative with regard to how much information you make available. Your public profile should never contain your home address, birth date or personal phone number (if they’re really your friends, they’ll find out this information in other ways).

But being cautious also means restricting the information you input into the site just for yourself. For example, recommends avoiding the security questions most Web sites ask, or choosing your own. Answers you provide to questions about your mother’s maiden name and  hometown can also be hacked by scammers and used against you later. Choose questions about what your favorite book is instead. No one ever lost their identity by confessing to loving Harry Potter… only their dignity.

And just like in real life, kids, you should avoid talking to strangers online when possible.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the Credit Center.