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Attorney General's News Release

January 28, 2011

Attorney General Koster urges consumers to guard against Internet snoops -- Data Privacy Day serves as a reminder to check privacy settings on social networks and wireless connections --

Jefferson City, Mo. – In recognition of Data Privacy Day, Attorney General Chris Koster today warned Missouri residents to protect their personal information, and that of their children, by checking the privacy settings on social websites and using secured networks. Koster said despite warnings, many computer users unknowingly leave them themselves vulnerable to financial fraud or privacy invasions.

“The huge explosion of social networking websites has attracted millions of Missouri computer users, both adults and children,” Koster said. “Unfortunately, many people don’t take necessary precautions to ensure their personal privacy and open the door to becoming the target of criminal activity. Data Privacy Day serves as a reminder to take action for your own protection.

To help keep your personal information and your children safe, follow these guidelines:

Social Networks

Modify your privacy settings those of your children. A recent industry study found that 21 percent of adult social network users are leaving their profiles open for anyone to see. That’s about 24 million adult Americans. Even more disturbing, that number does not include the number of children and young adults who leave their profile open for anyone to see.

If children or young adults are broadcasting to the world their picture, home address, telephone number, and e-mail address, they may be making themselves a target of predators.

“While children seem to know more about the Internet than we do, I urge parents to monitor their children’s social network settings or, if their children are young adults, to have a discussion with them about the dangers of broadcasting information for anyone to see,” Koster said.

The same study found that 70 million adults have shared their birthplace on social networking sites and 20 million provided their pet’s name. Those are the same details that people are often asked to provide to verify their identity when setting up bank accounts.

If you post vacation updates on an open site, you're telling the world – and possibly a burglar – that your home is vacant. There’s also your reputation to consider. According to a 2009 study, 70 percent of human resources professionals have rejected a candidate based on what they found out about the person by searching online.

As part of Data Privacy Day, Facebook is reminding its users to review their privacy settings, found both at the bottom of every Facebook page and in your account settings. With just a few clicks, you can adjust the type of information that strangers, applications and friends can access, as well as control the information they can share about you.

Wireless Internet

Wireless Internet access is convenient. But you should follow these four tips to protect yourself from identity theft:

  1. Change your router’s hardware identifier and preset password so a hacker can’t use the defaults to try to access your network.
  2. Activate your router’s encryption feature to better ensure information you transmit over the Web – such as account logins, passwords and credit card numbers – are scrambled.
    Read the instructions that come with your wireless router to determine how to turn on the encryption feature. Two main types of encryption are available: WiFi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Your computer, router, and other equipment must use the same encryption. WPA2 is strongest; use it if you have a choice.
  3. Don’t assume that public “hot spots” are secure. Café, hotel, and airport “hot spots” are convenient, but assume that other people can see anything you see or send over a public wireless network.
  4. Always use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall.

Data Privacy Day, internationally recognized on January 28, brings together businesses, individuals, government agencies, nonprofit groups and academics to spotlight how personal data is collected, used and stored.

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