Best Practice: Protecting Your Identity and Online Profile


Why Should You Monitor Your Identity and Online Profile?

IdentityTheft Graphic

As many as 37% to 50% of employers use social sites to screen potential employees, according to survey results summarized by The Next Web.  You also need to protect yourself against identity theft.  The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 10 million U.S. citizens have their identities stolen each year.

Your Online Profile and Personal Safety

Consider anything you post on a social network to be permanent and public.  Even if your social networking site profile is not “public,” anyone that you allow to view your profile can copy, save, and post that information or photo anywhere without your approval.  Search your name on the Internet a few times per year to be sure you do not have public-facing information that you didn’t intend to share.  Take the following steps to ensure you present yourself well online:

  1. Think before you post.  If you would cringe if your boss, teacher, or grandmother saw it, then don’t post it.  Never post sexually provocative pictures or comments, illegal activities, messages intended to harass or threaten, or other objectionable material.  Do not lie, cheat, or plagiarize information.  Read your institution’s policies on technology use and bullying.
  2. Separate your social life from your school and professional life.
    • My Blackboard includes a social toolset stored in the cloud.  You can create an online identity and engage in an academic community that is separate from any of your social media accounts with Profiles, People, Messages, Posts, and Spaces. To learn more, see My Blackboard.
    • Create Facebook lists to exclude specific people when you share something.  People on your Restricted list only see your public content or your own posts that they are tagged in.
    • Develop guidelines for yourself about which people you want to connect with on which social site.  For example, politely refer all Facebook requests that are strictly for professional purposes to your LinkedIn account.
    • Create a separate email address that you use only for your school or professional life.
  3. Choose more stringent privacy settings for all social network accounts.  Check the site’s help section for instructions on changing privacy settings.  Here are some strategies for commonly used social networks:
    • Facebook allows you to select the audience for every post, or change the default in Privacy Settings and Tools.  You can select all of your friends or create a custom setting to choose or exclude specific people or lists.  Do not select Public, which means anyone on the Internet can see it.  You can also prevent a preview of your timeline’s public information from showing in search engine results.  Note that this setting is on by default.  Use Privacy Shortcuts to quickly change your settings and view your profile as public users see it.
    • Twitter enables you to make your tweets public or protected.  Be cautious about including your location in tweets.
    • Blackboard Learn’s default privacy options display only your name and avatar throughout your courses, in places like the communication tools.  To learn more, see Password, Personal Information, and Settings.  If your institution has turned on Profiles, you can create a more detailed profile and choose which users see it.  If the Facebook and Twitter integration feature is available—which pulls only your profile picture and description from those sources—be sure that the content is appropriate for your Blackboard Profile.  To learn more, see Profiles.
  4. Maintain your personal safety.  Avoid location check-ins on social sites or posting where you are going, especially if you are alone.  Don’t share your address or the dates you will be out of town.
  5. Pitt Information Technology provides Best Practices for Safe Social Networking.

If you follow these guidelines and still find pictures or information you don’t want publicly available online, you can contact the source and ask them to remove it.  Check the site for ways to remove the connection between your name and the post or photo.  For example, Facebook allows you to remove your tag from a photo posted by someone else.  Most sites have ways to report users if all else fails.  In Blackboard Learn, you can Report Inappropriate Content.

Your Identity

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, social security number, credit card number, or other personal information for his own financial gain.  Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online and share the methods with your friends and colleagues.  For online safety information for specific age groups as well as more specific information on many of the following tips, see, which is powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance.

Identity theft is pervasive, but you don’t have to be an easy target.  Start with theses tips:

  1. NEVER share identifying information online that could be used by criminals to fraudulently authenticate your identity, such as:
    • Social security number
    • Student ID number
    • Driver’s license number
    • Date of birth
    • Address
    • Phone number
  2. Secure passwords are impossible for someone to guess.  Pick strong passwords that contain capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.  Don’t share them or keep a list of them in a place that is not secure.  It’s a good idea to have unique passwords for all of your accounts.  Change your passwords regularly.  Set a calendar reminder so you do not forget.
  3. Device security is a must.
    • Log out when you use any computer that will be used by someone else – this includes public computers and your own computer if you share it.  In Blackboard Learn, the logout button Image of Log out button is located in the upper right corner of the page header.  Delete your logins from the browser history and delete all cookies when you finish.  To learn more, see How to Use Public Computers Safely by
    • Lock your smart phone, laptop, and mobile devices with passcodes and use their safety features.  If you use mobile devices to access financial or other private information online, a thief might be able to access it as well.
    • Anti-virus and anti-malware software should be up to date on your computer and devices.  Enable automatic updating if it is available.  Use your security software to scan anything you plug into your computer for viruses.
  4. Before you provide any identifying information or conduct financial transactions online:
    • Check that you are on a secure internet connection.  In your browser, the lock symbol and “https” in the web address show that you have a secure connection for online transactions or account creation.
    • Use a credit card instead of a debit card for online purchases and monitor your statements for suspicious activity.  You can check your credit report for free once per year through Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
    • NEVER use public Wi-Fi to log in to your financial sites which makes you extremely vulnerable to hackers or a nosy neighbor.
    • Beware of phishing emails, which appear to come from your bank, institution, or other legitimate business, but are fraudulent and might contain harmful links or attempt to get you to divulge personal information.  Do not click links within the email.  Go directly to the site and research the problem. If you determine it is fraud, notify the site. Pitt Information Technology provides resources for recognizing and reporting phishing scams.
  5. Be savvy about free Wi-Fi.  Hackers often set up unauthorized Wi-Fi access points in public places to obtain your passwords and other information without your knowledge.
    • Before connecting to free Wi-Fi, locate a posted sign that lists the available network and verify that the network name you are connecting to is legitimate.
    • Use your settings to increase safety.  Shut off your wireless card if you’re not planning to connect to the Internet or other device.  Utilize a VPN whenever possible to encrypt your data.  Turn off shared folders.
    • Take note that any passwords or information you share in public locations could end up in the hands of criminals.
    • For more tips from, see Hidden Dangers of Free Public Wi-Fi.
  6. Protect your identity offline as well.  Shred mail that contains identifying information or account numbers.  Keep account numbers and your social security card in a safe place—not in your wallet.  Be sure no one watches you type your PIN at an ATM.

If you are a victim of fraud or identity theft, learn what the Federal Trade Commission recommends you do next.