As more businesses and members of the agriculture industry embrace and use social media outlets, there are concerns and risks ag retailers, crop consultants and agribusiness managers need to be mindful of to protect themselves and their identities.



Even though computers and the internet have changed our world, agribusinesses need to be reminded that not everyone they come in contact with online is trustworthy.



The growth of social networking sites is undeniable, with the most popular being Facebook with more than 400 million users worldwide. Forty percent of Facebook users are people under the age of 25. Users need to be aware of the potential risks associated with being too forthcoming on a public site.



“When you innocently mention that you’re going to be out of town, that’s potentially telling the world when your house will be vacant,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). “Even listing daily activities can let strangers know your routine and put you at risk. In other words, if you’re too revealing, you’re asking for trouble, as predators often cruise these sites hoping to steal your personal information for their gain. With just a few clicks of the mouse, they can learn a lot about you.”



People unwittingly make it very easy for someone to steal their identity online, as all someone needs is your name, date of birth and a few other pieces of information that are usually readily available on your social media account, and they’re well on their way. Another reason that the thieves love gaining access to your personal information through social media sites is that it’s perfectly legal. Often doing a simple internet search using a person’s name pulls up their Facebook account, and that can be Pandora’s Box for the crook.



What happens next? A recent survey by Consumer Reports revealed that 52 percent of adult users of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have posted risky personal information online. If your identity is stolen, it can take 30 hours or more and hundreds of dollars to restore your good name and good credit.



Twenty-four percent of the complaints associated with ID theft received by the Federal Trade Commission were from individuals between the ages of 20-29, alarmingly similar to the demographic of those who frequent social media sites.



The NFCC recommends the following precautions to take when using social networks:

  • Be smart about what you reveal about yourself or your family. Less is better.
  • Make sure everyone in the family understands what is acceptable to share online and what’s off-limits. Realize that information a youngster innocently provides on a social networking site can compromise the entire family.
  • Be selective when you allow access to your site. Keeping your circle small, including only those that you personally know can safeguard you.
  • Look at everything you post through the eyes of the crook. See if you could piece together who you are and where you live. Even clever screen names can often be decoded by a thief.

Consider having anyone who goes online attend a workshop on identity theft protection. The NFCC and Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) offer an Identity Theft Risk Check, a self-assessment of how at risk you are for ID theft on its Web site www.ProtectYourIDNow.org.



“It’s much better to protect yourself against ID theft, than to pick up the pieces after being victimized,” continued Cunningham.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. For more information, call (800) 388-2227 or visit www.nfcc.org.