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Ten Steps to Manage and Protect your Online Identity

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by monicadear

These days your Google search results are your resume (or so some would have you believe).

I use Gravatar to add a photo near my comments, and I keep my online profile up-to-date on most of the channels

Here are ten steps to managing your online identity and protecting your personal and professional identity, reputation, credit score, and bank account on the web. 

1) Protect your password.
A recently-added Friend had her Facebook profile hacked into and the hacker sent messages to people on her friends list. This is extraordinarily damaging, by the way, as now my e-mail address is compromised because of her account. If you're on Facebook or Linkedin or other public networks, consider changing your passwords and checking in regularly to monitor the account.

2) Never "remember me" if you're on a public computer.
If you're in an internet cafe or public library computer, never, ever, log in and click "remember me". I don't even click "remember me" on my own machine, because laptops are stolen all the time. If you're on a public computer or on an insecure public network like the local neighborhood wifi, just be careful with what you're doing. Wait to log into sensitive information (stocks, banking, investment accounts) when you have a private, secure connection.

3) Mind your own beeswax.
You wouldn't let someone rifle through your personal or private business mail-- don't let anyone snoop into your online e-mail, either. Your associates and friends want to know it's you who's sending e-mail: they don't want your account to be compromised or used by someone else. Again, check your webmail accounts, including any stray hotmail, yahoo, or gmail accounts, and make sure that all is well.

4) Identity theft: it happens.
It just happened to us recently: with random small charges ($1 here, 50 cents there, $1.50 there, and a charge of $19.99 here) showing up on our bank account. They do the small amounts first, then they swipe out twenty grand if they think you're not looking.

Check your statements regularly (every week at least) to make sure nothing odd has been debited. If you find an unauthorized transaction, talk to your banker immediately.

5) Your e-mail account: keep it private.
Unfortunately, nothing is truly private and confidential. I have some "throwaway" addresses that I use for mandatory signups on sites I don't know or trust yet, as I find that those addresses get tossed around and sometimes sold if I don't read the fine print. Once your e-mail address is "out there", it's pretty much gone, so consider using a service like for a mandatory signup e-mail: they let you accept an e-mail to the address and then remove the address if what you signed up for is not what you expected. Alternatively, set up a gmail account that you use for personal connections, and a separate account you use for e-mail newsletters and the like.

6) Learn how to identify PHISHING attacks.
A Phishing request is someone wanting your personal information. This is when you get a VERY IMPORTANT e-mail requesting any kind of personal information. These go straight to the trash for me, as these are usually requests to steal your identity.

I always call if it's related to money. No legitimate institution will require you to give them your social security number, your bank account or PIN number, your mother's maiden name or date of birth over an anonymous e-mail. Call your banker. Develop a relationship with your banker.

If you do receive an "important-looking" e-mail, go directly to the site in a new browser window and physically type in the URL address.

Never click on a link in your e-mail from someone you don't know.
Never click on a link in your e-mail from someone you don't know.
Never click on a link in your e-mail from someone you don't know.

It bears repeating because even I get tricked sometimes. Never click on the link. Always go to a new browser and type in the address for your provider (like E-bay, PayPal, Amazon, any e-commerce site, your bank, your stock account, your credit cards).

7) If you receive an attachment you didn't ask for, delete it.
Better yet, instruct people that you will no longer accept attachments such as zip files (, executable files (something.exe) or anything that requires unpacking. If you are on a PC, this will be second nature to you, as the operating system is more vulnerable to attacks. Mac users have less to fear but in general, files can execute any kind of code, so be careful when installing anything onto your computer.

8) Only connect with people you know and trust.
In my opinion, if you develop a very large network of people you don't actually know or exchange information with, the whole point of having the network breaks down and is not useful to anyone within it. Worse, tools like LinkedIn and Facebook will show mutual connections, meaning if your Friend A and your Friend B are both only loosely connected to Friend C, who then requests to connect with you, is this a good connection? No, because no one is actually vouching for or is connected to Friend C. Unfortunately, you may think that the AC and the BC connection are strong and then you add another link to the chain.

In general, treat online friends like you treat real friends. Treat online connections like you treat people within your "real life" network, a la connecting at least a few times a year to exchange notes and reaffirm the connection.

9) Be strong and say "No" when you have to.
Is it necessary for you to have a Twitter account? Is it necessary for your business to be represented with a blog? No.

Not every business is cut out for online networking (much like not every person is good at social interactions). If the business does not require an online presence to operate, consider waiting the next trend out or if necessary, hiring a social media consultant to help you manage that process (social media consultant or snake oil salesman?)

10) Learn as you go.
First there were Nigerian wire transfer schemes.
Then there were "free offer if you sign up by e-mail" schemes.
I've seen even some very polished and convincing schemes that unfortunately will impact you if you leave your savvy behind. For example, one site I saw was marketing predatory loans as "startup capital" for small, minority, women-owned businesses.

Minority, women, and business are my keywords (along with green, progressive, and socially responsible), and I am available for someone to learn about, but it is a tough challenge for someone with lower web skills to understand what is slick marketing-speak and what is a real and valuable service.

Go with someone legitimate is all I can say.

Figure out who is really offering what you seek and figure out who is using keywords to sell you on something you don't need.

Bonus Tip: If you use your "handle" or online screen name regularly and use it to post everywhere, your screen name will eventually get associated with your official name. For example, "monicadear" has been my screen name since 1999 (can you say, Tripod free online hosting, anybody?) and now I am known by that - any search engine will find me, so my online reputation is available for perusal in a relatively transparent manner.

If your search engine results turn up "incriminating" photos or something unsavory, embarrassing, or best left behind, consider what you can do to replace your serach engine results with good results.

The easiest way to do this is with a free or posterous or tumblr blog and a Twitter account.

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