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Social networks may expose social security numbers

Though most people don't knowingly expose their social security numbers while taking part in online social networks, they do share personal information that could provide the clues resourceful criminals need to figure out those vital nine digits.

That is one of the latest warnings to consumers from officials with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia, Inc.

Social security numbers are not random, according to Fred Elsberry, Jr., president and CEO of the BBB. "Studies show that computer programs can successfully guess 8.5 percent of the social security numbers of people born since 1988," he said. "This is done using information from your social networking sites and other public sites."

According to Elsberry, there are three sections to a social security number. The numbers from a couple of those sections derive from a source.

The first three numbers are part of the zip code where a person received his or her social security [number], said Elsberry. So, con artists, he said, may consider it a generous tip if a person displays his or her hometown on Facebook –– www.facebook.com –– a leading social network web site.

The next two digits are determined where and when a person applied for his or her social security number, said Elsberry. Finally, the next four digits are typically random, but are usually in sequential order.

This year, social security numbers will be more haphazard, said Elsberry. Unfortunately, people who want to change their current social security numbers won't be able to. "You need to do all that you can to protect the one you have, and your identity in general," he added.

Elsberry said, however, there are various ways people can protect their social security numbers and their identities, including the following:

–– Don't carry a social security card, birth certificate or extra credit cards, unless it's necessary.

–– Don't have a social security number printed on checks or a driver's license.

–– Cover the screen or keypad when entering a personal identification number (PIN) at an automated teller machine (ATM) or public telephone.

–– Don't use common words that may easily be discovered when creating passwords or PINs.

–– Opt out of pre-approved credit offerings.

–– Cancel unused credit cards and keep a list of credit card accounts, issuers and customer service contact information.

–– If bills don't arrive on time, contact creditors to assure the account isn't in possession of an identity thief, who may have changed the billing address.

–– Check bills and statements for unauthorized use.

–– Shred and destroy all items that contain personal information.

–– Do not leave mail inside your mailbox overnight.

–– Check your credit report at least annually.