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3 financial dangers of social media

Laptop with caution tape over social media website
Highlights
  • Negative comments about company could cost you a job.
  • Debt collectors use social media to glean information about debtors.
  • Scam artists may use personal information to set up schemes.

Anyone who doubts the power of social media to affect finances need look no further than the example of Kansas City Chiefs football player Larry Johnson.

The all-pro running back cost himself $213,000, and ultimately a job, by posting anti-gay slurs on the micro-blogging service Twitter -- in 140 characters or less, of course.

Career trouble is just one way a badly managed social media presence can hit your pocketbook. Following are three areas where social media could damage your financial life, and how to avoid such pitfalls.  

Employment

Andy Beal, CEO of the social media monitoring platform Trackur.com, says jobseekers should assume potential employers will do a Google search of candidates' names. Social media profiles typically appear near the top of the search page.

If you have questionable pictures or posts on a public profile, take them down or make the profile private to avoid trouble.

“People just post such private things about their lives, and the whole world is watching.”

Also, steer clear of negative talk about a prospective employer on any social media platform, Beal says. Many companies monitor mentions of their brand throughout the Web, he says.

He cites the case of a Twitter user who posted about a new job offer from Cisco, but expressed doubt about "the daily commute" and "hating the work." A Cisco employee noticed the tweet and demanded to know the name of the user's hiring manager.

Even employees who think their jobs are safe can sabotage themselves by being too honest online about their personal lives, or by posting feelings regarding a boss, client, co-worker or company for whom they work.

"We've seen a lot of cases of people publishing status updates that have gotten them in trouble," says Justin Smith, founder and editor in chief of Inside Facebook. "People have said things that have caused problems with their boss because of what they said about their work or because they've shared some other kind of private information about work online."

Caroline McCarthy, a staff writer at CNET News, says the best defense against such mistakes is to use plain old common sense. Remember, anything that appears on the Web is just a screenshot away from spreading quickly, despite the best efforts of social media users to keep it private.

Debt collection

Social media has become a key tool for collection agencies trying to track down debtors, says Michelle Dunn, CEO of the American Credit and Collections Association and author of "Do's and Don'ts of Online Collections Techniques."

"If they don't have a good phone number or the mail's being returned, a lot of them use Facebook to find out if they have a different address or their employment information," Dunn says.

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Many bill collectors who think they've found a debtor on a social media site will keep an eye on that individual's online presence, Dunn says.

"They don't necessarily have to post anything to them; they just watch what that person is posting," she says.

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