Editorial: Don't invite fraudster's into your gang

Opinion by Paul Fisher

My social networking has recently become a whole lot more active. This is due to the number of email invitations I've had to become friends with people on networking site LinkedIn.

My social networking has recently become a whole lot more active. This is due to the number of email invitations I've had to become friends with people on networking site LinkedIn.

This is curious, as I have been a member of LinkedIn since 2004, but, for most of that time my membership remained more or less dormant - in fact, I'd forgotten about it. I think my "professional" network consisted of pretty much myself, my cleaner and my dog. The promise of making connections with people in high places and those with the power to land me a six-figure salary faded quickly.

Then, in the past six months, it's gone crazy. Old colleagues I haven't spoken to in years (or fallen out with) are inviting me to join their network - some are even doubling up by inviting me to join their gang on Facebook as well. And most of these I have accepted, unable to resist the lure of having connections. I might yet regret some of these rash acceptances.

I now have a potential network of 59,900 people - and growing. Wow! That's around 59,800 more people than I could truly list as professional contacts.

Some of this activity is no doubt due to the massive publicity surrounding Facebook, Bebo and other sites. Suddenly everyone wants to be on some sort of social networking site and for those who feel Facebook is a bit too, well, young, then LinkedIn is the place to get in on the craze.

All good fun, and it's undoubtedly interesting to look at who knows whom and who can be useful to whom, but there is a downside to all this as Equifax warned consumers recently.

The credit referencing organisation said that people were giving away too much information about themselves on social networking sites. This information was at risk of being stolen by fraudsters who trawl these sites for juicy nuggets such as birthdates, pet's names and marital status.

The fact that so many of us are happy to submit highly personal information about our lives onto open networks says something about ourselves. On LinkedIn, for example, there is a definite trend for people to use it as a way of furthering their careers and tell the world just how brilliant they are. So they are more than happy to list their career history in detail, hoping that it might catch the eye of some headhunter or prospective employer. Increasingly, it is likely to catch the eye of someone less beneficial.

Admittedly, all these sites do have varying degrees of control of who can access your personal information, but none include any warning about being careful about what you post and, like any website, are at risk of being hacked - along with your information.

In the rush to be popular and more successful, the social narcotic of our times, many of us have perhaps been a little hasty in revealing too much about ourselves online.

Some revelations are welcome however, and I would be delighted to hear from more of you about why you or your colleagues should be considered for one of our brand new Professional Awards. These will be handed out at a special ceremony at the RSA Conference Europe in London this October. You can read more about these and how to enter on page 42 - it's your chance to shine.

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