Would you give away your best client’s personal contact information to a spammer or identity thief? If you are not actively protecting your client and personal contact lists on social media sites, you may be doing exactly that.

A couple of days ago, I used Facebook to ask a friend to give me a call. I included my office phone number. Later in the day, I received a note from another Facebook friend who must have seen the note on my Facebook Wall. My friend warned me: "Don’t ever post your phone number on your wall. You’ll get inundated with marketing calls."

Would you give away your best client’s personal contact information to a spammer or identity thief? If you are not actively protecting your client and personal contact lists on social media sites, you may be doing exactly that.

A couple of days ago, I used Facebook to ask a friend to give me a call. I included my office phone number. Later in the day, I received a note from another Facebook friend who must have seen the note on my Facebook Wall. My friend warned me: "Don’t ever post your phone number on your wall. You’ll get inundated with marketing calls."

I can certainly understand not posting your personal phone number on your public feed on Twitter, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of followers. On the other hand, my profile page shouldn’t be an issue. After all, don’t I control who sees what on those pages?

Here’s the problem: When I send a message to someone else on any of the social media sites and include private information such as my direct phone number, pictures or other personal data, that person may not be as diligent about protecting their data as I am.

Part of the issue is data mining. A host of companies are doing this, including Google. Data mining can be fairly innocuous — the site may be collecting information about users so it can better serve them. In most cases, however, this is not the case. Your personal data is quite valuable to advertisers. Many of the fun games on Facebook are nothing more than data-mining schemes.

Data mining can be dangerous. For example, when you sign up to play a game on Facebook, the application invites you to share your game results with your friends. As soon as you broadcast your results, you have handed over your database information to a third party.

I recently received a request to become the fan of an application that would tell me how many people had visited my Facebook profile page. The catch? I had to provide this company with access to all of my friends’ data.

There are constant stories in the news about how various databases have been attacked by hackers. In fact, Google recently suffered a major attack from Chinese hackers. Banks are constant targets as well. If your personal data is compromised, it can lead to identity theft, credit-card issues, or even put your home and personal safety at risk.

What can you do to protect your privacy? Here are some tips.

1. Set your Facebook privacy settings to the maximum level you can tolerate
Facebook has recently improved its privacy settings. You can set up your profile to control who sees what parts of your profile. Again, the challenge is whether the people on your friends’ list will be as diligent about protecting your data as you are. By limiting who has access to your personal information, you can limit your exposure. …CONTINUED

2. Protect your passwords
One of the best strategies to protect your privacy is to change your passwords often. The challenge is keeping track of multiple passwords for multiple sites. There are numerous services that allow you to store your passwords in an encrypted file. In some cases, all you have to do is to access a single Web site that provides this service. The software automatically logs you in and you don’t have to worry about having the passwords on your computer where they could be hacked.

3. Be suspicious
Any site that demands you provide access to your friends and/or followers is probably a threat to your security. While the service may be appealing, in most cases it’s better to avoid using it.

If you receive a direct message, an e-mail or any other communication that seems odd, delete it immediately. Also, let the person who sent it to you know that their site may have been compromised. On Facebook and Twitter, one strategy for handling this is to change your passwords.

4. Monitor your computer not only for viruses, but for spyware as well
You are probably already running a virus program such as Norton or McAfee. It’s also wise to run a spyware program on a regular basis to remove tracking cookies and other potential risks. To give you an idea of how serious this is, a single visit to a news Web site can attach 10-12 tracking cookies to your computer. This tends to slow your system down, expose you to annoying ads, and put you at risk to have your computer data hacked. There are a number of free solutions. If you are already running McAfee, their spyware program handles close to 100 percent of the issues. Click here for a review of the top five anti-spyware programs.

5. Set up separate e-mail accounts
Whenever you sign up for a site that you suspect will be spamming you with drip e-mails, use a separate Web-based e-mail account from a service like Hotmail or Gmail. These separate accounts cost nothing and also protect your personal and business e-mail from being compromised.

6. Use your extra computer
Many agents have more than one computer. If you’re concerned about your online banking or stock trades, set up your old computer and use it only for financial transactions. Do not use it for e-mail or for surfing on the Web.

While there is no way to completely guarantee your privacy, taking the steps outlined above will reduce your exposure to those who would compromise your privacy and your security.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.

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