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Oversharing on social media can cost you

Treading carefully online should start even before you step foot on campus. According to a 2013 survey by Kaplan Test Prep, more college admissions officers than ever are conducting Google searches of applicants (29 percent) or are visiting the applicants' social networking profiles (31 percent).

Get you in legal trouble

South Florida educator Patrick Snay learned the hard way that a single Facebook post can trigger legal woes.

In 2011, Snay reached an age-discrimination settlement with his former employer, Gulliver Preparatory School. Attached to the settlement was a confidentiality agreement. However, the school yanked the bulk of the settlement -- $80,000 -- after Snay's college-age daughter bragged about the deal to her more than 1,200 Facebook friends. In February, a Florida appellate court sided with the school.

Bottom line: An ill-timed post on social media could end up being used against you in civil, or even criminal, court.

Increase your risk of fraud

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 16.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2012 alone. Financial losses for these victims added up to $24.7 billion.

For identity thieves, social media is a hunting ground for targets' personal information.

Becky Frost, consumer education manager for Experian's ProtectMyID service, says even something as seemingly harmless as your dog's name or your mother's maiden name can compromise your bank or credit card accounts. How? Those names might be part of your bank account's security questions or passwords.

Aside from identity theft, social media can spark financial trouble in other ways. For example, insurance companies have rejected claims based on assumptions they've made after seeing photos on a policyholder's social media account, says Rip Mason, executive chairman of the board of LegalShield.

How to protect yourself

So how do you ensure you're as safe as possible on Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks?

1. Lock down your social profiles: According to NextAdvisor, 30 percent of Facebook users don't have their profiles set to "private." That's an open invitation for an identity thief to steal your personal information, or for a prospective employer to poke into your past.

"If you share too much information on a social network, you could make it possible for someone to collect enough information to be able to take over one or more of your email, social networking or financial accounts," Mason says.

2. Be careful with online quizzes: These popular and fun quizzes that ask questions like "Which Golden Girl are you?" may pull information about you, your life and your interests.

"That information may be used to guess login information and answers to security questions for other online accounts," Mason says.

3. Beware of "likes" or "favorites": If you "like" or "favorite" your bank, credit union or credit card issuer, someone could contact you by email under the guise of representing that institution and feed you a story about why the institution needs your username and login information.

"If you fall for it, they likely will steal the money from your account," Mason says.


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