Facebook is the world’s largest social networking site, with more than 800 million active users – many of whom enjoy posting status updates, photos of themselves, and comments about their own lives or other people’s activities.
Twitter, the micro-blogging site, is equally popular – if not in numbers, then certainly in terms of how engaged people become once they start dashing off 140-character tweets and developing a following.
Despite all the benefits Facebook and Twitter may offer – social interaction, creative expression, and real-time sharing of news and information – there are also many ways in which Facebook and Twitter could lead to some serious economic damage if you’re not careful.
Here are six ways Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites can hurt you financially:
1. You could lose a job or promotion
According to a Reppler study, 91% of employers use social networks to screen job applicants. In fact, 69% of employers say they’ve rejected a job candidate based on something they saw about the person on a social networking site.
Clearly, saying or doing the wrong thing on Facebook or Twitter could cost you a job or take you out of the running for a much-desired promotion.
That’s why we’ve all heard stories about social media exploits coming back to burn people. (Think: those college frat pictures showing you binge-drinking, that careless tweet about how much you “hate” your job or boss, or that topless photo you posted during Mardi Gras).
So be smart about your social networking posts. Remember that Facebook and Twitter have definite career consequences for you, and thus serious financial ramifications as well.
2. You could become a victim of theft
I’m always amazed at people who announce practically every detail of their lives, including their present whereabouts, on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Before you use social media to broadcast to the world that you are currently or will soon be on vacation in Mexico for a week, realize that crooks actively troll social networking pages looking for easy targets to victimize.
By telling the world that you’re currently out of the country or traveling out of town on business – or even that you just bought a great new home entertainment system – you could be setting yourself up to get robbed at your house or apartment.
And if thieves break into your home while you’re away, they could also get access to personal data, like your bank accounts or Social Security number – putting you at risk of identity theft too.
This is such a problem that Allstate, the big insurance company, recommends that people use smart social media strategies to deter burglary and theft. One suggestion Allstate makes: think twice before you check in on Foursquare, use Twitter to share a “wish-you-were-here!” message to your followers, or post real-time Facebook pictures of yourself sipping margaritas in the Caribbean.
3. Bill collectors can track you down
Under federal law, bill collectors are restricted in terms of how and when they can contact you about debts you supposedly owe. That’s one of the protections afforded to consumers under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from telling others about your alleged bills.
But right now, the law is unclear on whether or not a bill collector can attempt to contact you through certain forms of social media. After all, most consumer protection laws, including the FDCPA, were written in a pre-Facebook era.
Besides, even if the FDCPA directly addressed this topic, bill collectors routinely flout the law. Little wonder, then, that unscrupulous debt collectors have been known to “friend” people on Facebook – and then later ask for or demand cash.
Some collection agents use an online “friendship” to get to know you, including where you work. Then they try to weasel their way into your wallet. Other debt collectors take a more aggressive approach, employing online threats, coercion, and other strong-arm tactics on Facebook to try to publicly embarrass debtors.
Using intimidation and harassment is illegal – no matter how a debt collector contacts you. But that doesn’t stop it from happening all the time.
Whether their technique is nasty or nice, it’s becoming more common for debt collectors and creditors to use social media platforms as a way to spy on you and your lifestyle, gauge your financial standing, and ultimately try to get cash from you.
4. Almost anyone can tarnish your professional reputation
One of the financial hazards of using sites like Facebook and Twitter is that anyone can publicly bash you – at any time and for any reason – and do serious harm to your personal or professional reputation. Their gripes may be legitimate or completely fabricated and baseless.
Either way, once someone hell-bent on publicly trashing you takes