Social Media Safety for Lawyers Facing Crime Risk Internationally

Would you tell a stranger that you were leaving for a ten day vacation to Acapulco?  Would you willingly give out your birth date and address to someone you didn’t know?    Most of us would answer a resounding “NO” to these questions. Yet millions of people–including many lawyers– do this daily on their Facebook and Linked In pages.

Joe Pistone, who worked for the FBI for 27 years as an undercover agent, cautions people against putting too much information on social media sites. As Pistone told Computer Weekly, Russian and Italian Mafias are using data from such social media public sites to extort businesses and individuals.

Similarly,  David Rappe, a former US Army commando and expert with the security firm Beyond Risk, warns that kidnappers are becoming much more sophisticated regarding their research of potential prey. Like the Russian and Italian Mafias,  kidnappers within Venezuela (and other nations) are scouring Facebook, and even creating false profiles, in an effort to learn routines and financial holdings of their intended victims.  The son of  wealthy Mexican businessman Alejandro Marti was kidnapped and murdered, a crime aided by the son’s on-line postings. As Rappe told TIME, it’s not actually being risk that puts you in danger but rather “the appearance of being rich.”

In an effort to protect their lawyers, many law firms with such security concerns have opted not to publish individual lawyer photos on their online lawyer profiles.  Unfortunately, this can leave firm website looking cold and impersonal.

So how do lawyers take advantage of the internet and social media’s benefits (like the ability to connect with actual and potential clients), while mitigating the inherent  risks?

Social networking sites offer various levels of account security, but it is up to the user to employ them. In addition,  ComputerWeekly suggests these social media safety tips (and we have added a few of our own):

• Restrict viewing of your details to trusted persons.

• Never publish your full birth date.

• Don’t reveal your e-mail, phone number, or postal address.

• Question the motivation of unsolicited requests to be friends or group membership from persons unknown.

• Read the small print of any third-party software installed via social networking sites.

• Never arrange to meet strangers in person.

• Do not post your travel plans; carefully edit comments on past travel (avoiding revealing any pattern to your travel, or, like Rappe notes, appearing affluent.).

•Restrict descriptions of your personal and professional activities,  lest unscrupulous people figure out a pattern of your behavior.

•Some lawyers may want to omit personal photos entirely.  However, if your law firm already publishes your professional photo, use the same one on your personal social media page, to minimize the publicly accessible images of you.

•Use a “strong” password, and change it often.

Despite security concerns, social media is growing rapidly.  Americas Quarterly reports that in 2009, social media use in Latin America rose 83.3%. Mexican businessman Miguel Angel Oliva, Vice President of Public Relations and Corporate Affairs for HBO Latin America, spends a couple of hours every day updating his profiles on Facebook and on LinkedIn, especially since LinkedIn launched its Spanish version in 2008. “When I joined LinkedIn, I realized that it had a professional focus, that it was a serious business community.  I would recommend new users to join groups of interest, to develop their profile and participate actively on LinkedIn”, Oliva explains.

Professionals like Oliva have managed to incorporate social media networks into their business in a safe and effective manner.  Similarly, lawyers everywhere can safely utilize social media, as long as they are vigilant in what they are posting, and pay particular attention to whom they permit to see their profiles.

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