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updated 3/30/2011 9:19:12 AM ET 2011-03-30T13:19:12

To get a good sense of why people enjoy online social networking, visit Twitter during the baseball playoffs or during a live broadcast of “American Idol.”

You might be sitting alone on your couch watching the game or the show, but you’re getting the camaraderie of being in a like-minded crowd. You can trash-talk with the person cheering for your opponent, or give a virtual high-five to your “friends.”

The fun part of using online social media is the networking and sharing. However, the dangerous part of using online social media can also be the networking and sharing.

Personal information is exchanged as if the conversation were happening in a private space. But the fact is that you’re really speaking in public.

Depending on the forum and privacy settings, large groups of people you don’t know — possibly even the entire world — might have access to your intimate conversations and off-hand remarks.

Online social media users need to guard private information to stay safe and secure in real life.

Here’s a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for sharing personal information over social media websites or services.

1. Do take advantage of privacy settings — and encourage your friends to do the same.

A friend of mine had problems with a relative who was following her comments (and making comments of his own) on other friends’ pages, all because her friends — not she — had their sites open to everyone.

2. Don’t announce your vacation plans.

“Vacation photos are a great way to share your family fun with friends, but telling every one of your Facebook friends you’ll be in Bermuda for a week only invites real-life problems. Wait until you’ve returned home to share vacation information online,” said Sarah Carter of Actiance, a Belmont, Calif.-based communications security provider.

Another don’t: Don’t limit this advice to vacations. Practice it any time you plan to be out of the house.

3. Do accept friend requests with caution.

Only accept friend requests from people you know. If you aren’t sure, send a message to ask how you know each other or check them out on Google or Snopes.com to make sure the request isn’t a hoax.

4. Don’t include too much identifying information.

Everybody loves receiving birthday greetings, so go ahead and share the date. But adding the year you were born — along with your full home address, phone numbers and other personal info — gives criminals enough details about you to steal your identity.

5. Do ask questions before clicking a link.

A lot of malware shows up through random links or via status updates on social-media sites. If you aren’t sure about the link, especially if it is a shortened URL, ask the sender if it is legitimate.

6. Don’t automatically trust everyone.

When seeking out victims, criminals often take advantage of the trust levels in social media. They post scams — a popular one is to ask people to send money because the poster is stranded in London. They also disguise themselves as potential friends — “you don’t know me, but we follow the same famous movie star and have lots in common!” — among other devious acts.

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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