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Americans Exposing Personal Data on Social Networks, Survey Finds

Harris Interactive survey finds more than 24 million U.S. adults leave their profiles public, millions more reveal sensitive information such as birthplace, address and pets' names (answers to common security questions) to potential fraudsters.

Millions of Americans are exposing their identities and potentially critical financial information on popular social networking sites, according to a Social Network Fraud survey of 1,013 U.S. adults, conducted via telephone by Harris Interactive on behalf of ID Analytics (a provider of consumer risk analytics software) this month.

More than 24 million Americans age 18 or older leave their social network profiles mostly public. Millions more expose key pieces of identity information including date of birth, birthplace, and even current and previous addresses. Nearly 70 million U.S. adults on social networking sites share their birthplace on their profiles. Birthplace is one of the most common security questions asked by financial institutions to verify someone's identity.

"People do not realize how they are exposing their identities and potentially sensitive financial information to fraudsters on social networking sites such as Facebook," said Thomas Oscherwitz, chief privacy officer for ID Analytics, in a statement.

"Americans are also unknowingly sharing with fraudsters answers to common security questions posed by financial institutions to verify an identity including a pet's name, their favorite book and music, or the color of their car," he said. "Consumers should realize that social networking sites provide fraudsters with a plethora of information that is ripe for the taking and take steps to protect themselves."

The survey also found that nearly 20 million Americans reveal their pets' names on their social networks, another common security question used to verify identities. 18-to-34-year-olds are the most likely to reveal various personal information on social networking sites. Men are much more likely to share their current address than women. Men are also almost twice as likely to share photos of their car, while women are almost twice as likely to share pet names.

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