Criminals constantly search social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook for information they can use.

Adults and children alike readily post their dates of birth, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, addresses and even where and when they work. This invites ID theft and even more severe crimes.

A Harris Interactive survey shows that the more than 13 million American adults who use social network sites are more willing to accept requests from strangers of the opposite sex.

But protecting yourself is easy.

Here are some proactive things you can do to protect yourself and your family. It is important that you educate your children also.

1. Limit use of personal information. Be cautious of what you list in your profile. Your online profile may contain enough information for thieves to piece together answers to those “challenge questions” often used by online banking or e-commerce sites to help you recover your forgotten password. It is not recommended to list personal information like your home address, phone number, birthday, etc.

2. Use privacy settings. Restrict access to your information. Limit what information is available and who can see it.

3. Don’t only rely on the privacy settings. Know how privacy settings work and set them to limit inadvertent exposure as much as possible. Networking sites tag each user in order to access the user’s personal profile. An advertiser or third party tracking site can obtain the user’s tag via banners on the site and gain access to the user’s personal profile.

4. Use browser security to refuse third party cookies.

5. Vary your passwords. Use a password for social networking websites that is different from the ones for your email, e-commerce and financial websites. Ideally, you should use a different password on each website.

6. Know who you are “friending.” Refuse requests from people you don’t know. They may be interested in more than your friendship.

7. Beware links in email messages. Links sent in messages sometimes lead to websites that distribute malware, software that can do harm. Consider the source of the message: Is it from someone who never sends you messages? Does the message sound like something your friend would send?

If it looks suspicious, ask your friend if he or she really sent it. If not, your friend’s computer may be infected with malware, which actually sent you the message.

Officer Larry Jacobs is a crime prevention specialist in the Crime Prevention Unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at