Every day, millions of students around the country click onto the Internet. Many of these students frequent popular social networks such as Facebook and Myspace, putting up personal information for others to see.
While disclosing this information may seem like a good way to keep friends informed, it could also expose students to identity theft and fraud.
"The biggest mistake that students make online is assuming that everything online is safe," said Geof Allen, VTPD community outreach officer. "The one thing that we see a lot online on Facebook and Myspace are students putting up too much information about themselves."
Some types of information are more dangerous than others.
"People should make sure that they don't post their full names or their Social Security, bank or credit card numbers," said Jackie Dizdul, a spokesperson for the FTC.
Common data posted online could lead to disastrous results.
"With a date of birth and a mother's maiden name, one could find out a person's social security number," Allen said.
Something critical to protecting personal data is the idea that once information is online, it is difficult, if not impossible, to take down.
"Only post information you're comfortable with others seeing," Dizdul said. "Most people don't realize that even if you delete the information, it could still be available for others to see."
This could present future problems for students.
"People share things online they may not want others to see, especially years down the road when they're applying for jobs or graduate schools," said Parry Aftab, a lawyer and speaker on cyberlaw issues.
Also at stake for students are their finances.
"Someone who steals a student's information could take out a loan, purchase a car, and apply for a credit card," Allen said.
With the right information, these actions could be performed with relative ease.
"The identity thieves could do any financial transaction by telephone that the person could do," Allen said.
On social networking sites, protecting information is essential.
"Many people are very free with their online passwords, so others could possibly change their profiles and say mean things to others posing as the person with the account," Aftab said.
The key for students to protect themselves is vigilance.
"Be careful," Aftab said. "Don't give out your passwords to anyone. Be sure to use privacy settings on social networking sites to keep what you don't want others seeing private. Be sure to only be online friends with people that you know and trust."