NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Given the ease with which it can share your location, mother's maiden name and birthday (of course who doesn't enjoy receiving a friendly electronic birthday wish?), your Facebook page could be a gold mine for identity thieves. While identity theft is on the rise, thieves are finding more clever ways to steal act to combat smart consumers. If you are not careful, though, your social media profile can be the golden ticket identity thieves need.

Who's Viewing You?

The fact of the matter is that sharing information via Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms is becoming the norm for most Americans. Who doesn't love to share?

What we may not realize is that this information we give willy-nilly can be an easy alley-oop for the crooks.

"Social media often contains the secrets to crack a password reset," says Robert Siciliano, security expert of McAfee Online. "When we answer the 'knowledge based questions' in a password reset, they can often be found on our social media profiles."

Why not share? It is, after all, going to your so-called "Facebook friends." But that's not the full story: users, in fact, are not only sharing with people they know, but also with people they do not know. According to CreditDonkey.com, approximately 25% of users accept friend requests from people they do not know.

The Evolution of Identity Theft

And so while the use of social media is on a rise, so is identity theft. Identity theft cases have increased during the past years, according to a report conducted by the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Although the face of identity theft has changed, the intent remains the same. "Based on data from the NCVS, we know that the percentage of households experiencing identity theft increased from 5.5% [6.4 million households] in 2005 to 7.0% [8.6 million households] in 2010," says Lynn Langton, statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. "About 5% of all persons 16 or older [11.7 million people] experienced at least one type of identity theft during a two-year period."

How to Protect Yourself

Whether you are dealing with a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter account, there are steps you can take to protect keep personal information private.

"Be smart about what you post and links you click," says Siciliano. "Keep your devices antivirus, anti-phishing, anti-spyware and firewall updated. Set strong passwords using numbers, letters and characters."

If you love sharing via social media, here are a few tips to protect your identity:

  • Take time to read the privacy information to determine how your information is shared
  • Adjust privacy settings to help limit who can see your personal information
  • Think twice about who you accept as a connection and/or friend
  • Since information such as previous employment, birthdates, and a mother's maiden name are used for identity verification, consider eliminating this information from your public profile
  • Before you post pictures, links, or other information, question whether identity thieves could use this information for personal gain.

More importantly, just be smart when it comes to sharing information via social media. Just as you would protect your physical personal and financial documents, protect your electronic content as well.

Remember: your choice, your future!

Kemberley Washington is a certified public accountant and professor. She writes a personal finance blog, kemberley.com. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.