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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:31 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

With record numbers of ID theft in the UK last year, X-Ray asked, are we sharing too much information online?

The internet has given us the chance to share more and more of our lives with practically anyone. Nearly a quarter of UK internet users now have at least one social networking profile.

If a complete stranger stopped you in the street and asked for personal details such as your name, address and date of birth no doubt you would be reluctant to hand them over but when it comes to doing the same online our perception of risk is much lower.

Rachel meets Professor Andrew Blyth, from the University of Glamorgan who is one of the UK's leading internet security experts. He tells Rachel when it comes to web-security we are letting ourselves down.

"Our names, our addresses, our telephone numbers our dates of birth, everything that makes us who we are, we just give it away. What the site is getting is all your personal information, which they can then use and sell"

X-Ray decided to see how secure we are online by setting up a 'cyber-surgery' in Bridgend. Armed with only a laptop and internet connection Professor Blyth went on the hunt for the personal data of willing volunteers.

By searching social networking sites, search engines and online databases such as The Electoral Role and directory enquiries Andrew was able to find addresses, postcodes and dates of birth. All these small pieces of information help to build a profile of an individual which can ultimately lead to identity theft. Amazingly 23% of internet users have posted personal details online.

One common trend we found with users of social networking sites was the acceptance of 'Friend' requests from individuals they did not know. This is not uncommon and Ofcom study revealed 17% of adults use a profile to communicate with people they do not know. Sharing personal data with complete strangers again leaves users wide open to the fraudsters.

It's not just cyber criminal mining for data either; increasingly the traditional burglar is targeting victims via the internet, almost creating shopping lists of expensive items such as televisions, cars and jewellery photos of which have all been posted proudly online by their owners.

Posting details about an upcoming holiday when your address is easily available on the internet could find you returning to a nasty surprise. One leading insurer has hinted at putting up contents premiums for users of social networking sites.

Former policeman and director of 'Get Safe Online' Tony Neate is well aware of the ammunition we innocently hand over to criminals.

"It's potentially a burglar's information centre; its intelligence led burgling for these people. We want to make sure that those criminals don't have access to that information because the internet is a fantastic place to be, great to share information, but let's keep it safe."

Here are X-Rays tips to protect yourself from criminals online:

  • On social networking sites change privacy settings so only people you know can access your profile.
  • Don't become 'friends' with anyone you don't know.
  • Use one email address for shopping and networking and another for personal emails.
  • Never post any personal identity details such as your date of birth online, it could be an expensive mistake.

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