Social networking websites provide a variety of ways for users to interact such as email and instant messaging services and they have also encouraged new ways to communicate and share information.

The popularity of social networking sites has grown rapidly in recent years and they help people stay in touch. They also help small business owners to connect with other businesses and clients and they give people the chance to network with people whom they would not be able to meet otherwise.

Also, users are able to chat with each other in a manner similar to texting in certain social network websites. However, the growing popularity and mainstream use of these websites has also been accompanied by the rise of cyber crime.

What are Some Crimes Which Involve Social Network Websites?

Because of the fact that social network websites have a great deal of private information, there have been many concerns regarding crime and privacy. Some examples of crimes committed through these websites include:

  • Identity theft which involves taking the personal or financial information of someone else;
  • Scams and fraud schemes which can involve fake profiles;
  • Cyber bullying which results in emotional distress;
  • Cyber stalking;
  • Cyber confessions where criminals boast about their crimes on social networking websites;
  • Cyber threats, including threats of violence;
  • Website hacking; and/or
  • Breaking privacy and copyright laws.

How Do Hackers Use Social Network Websites?

One way that hackers break into financial or other accounts is by clicking the “Forgot your password” link on the account login page. They search for answers to your security questions such as your birthday or home town in order to break into your account.

To avoid this, make up your own password questions if the site allows and do not draw them from material that anyone could find with a quick search. Also, hackers break into accounts and send messages which look like they are from your friends but they are not.

This also includes invitations to join new social networks. If you feel that a message is fraudulent, use a different method to contact your friend to find out.

Can Information from a Social Network Website Be Used in a Criminal Trial?

Many lawyers and also judges have started using information from social network websites for use as evidence in trial. This has caused much debate but the general consensus is that such information can be used as evidence in court, sometimes without getting the person’s approval.

Also, if a defendant is claiming a particular defense, information from a social network website which contradicts this defense can be used against the defendant. Employers also often use information from social network websites in workplace dispute lawsuits.

What Can I Do to Stay Safe?

If you are currently using social networking websites, some suggested tips to protect yourself from online crimes are:

  • Avoid clicking on links to suspicious websites;
  • Do not give out personal information to strangers;
  • Be selective about who you accept as a friend on a social network;
  • Be careful about choosing a social network website and review its privacy policies;
  • Use the website’s privacy settings;
  • Do not post messages, information, photos or videos of yourself if you are not sure how they will be used by an unauthorized party;
  • Do not engage in chats or messaging with unfamiliar persons; and/or
  • Do not respond to suspicious ads, notifications or messages and delete them without opening them.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you are charged with criminal activity through social networking, including hacking, cyber stalking, or any other of the listed above, then it is in your best interest to contact a criminal lawyer. With the advances in technology, crimes through social networks are taken seriously and it is important to be prepared to face trial.