Most of us enjoy using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ – and social media is a great way to keep in touch and making new friends. However, with millions of people using social media, oversharing personal information online can leave you vulnerable to hackers, scammers and even burglars, which is why you need to be careful when it comes to social media safety.

Social media safety is important whatever your age. It can help you avoid social media scams or people using your personal information to try to con you or impersonate you. We’ve collected some practical, easy-to-follow social media safety advice and general social media tips to help you stay safe online.

Learn what is identity theft – spotting identity fraud to help protect yourself and other family members.

Strong passwords can boost social media safety

Use a separate password for each social media account, such as a different password for Facebook and Pinterest. Accounts can be hacked – Facebook recently reported that millions of its social media accounts had been hacked. Using the same password for all your social media accounts means all your accounts are vulnerable if one is hacked.

Create a unique and strong password that’s at least eight digits long. Don’t use any personal information such as birthdays and try to avoid dictionary words and common phrases. Instead use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. If you’re worried that you may forget your password, it’s OK to write it down, just keep it somewhere safe away from your computer.

You should also turn on two-step verification. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can send a code to your mobile phone each time you log in, preventing anyone from logging into your account if they don’t physically have your mobile phone.

Be careful what you share on social media

Posting too much personal information on social media can leave you vulnerable to identity theft. Most of us know that it’s unwise to post our home address or phone number, but it’s easy over time to have posted information that criminals can use against us.

Hackers typically break into financial or email accounts by clicking the “Forgot your password?” link on the account login page. In some cases, all they need are answers to common security questions, such as your birthday, birth place, first school, your pet’s name and so on. Get on top of social media safety by not posting personal details including your full name or date of birth. Be careful, too, about posting photos of your home as that can make it easy to identify where you live. Likewise, avoid talking about upcoming holidays or posting daily updates while you’re away.

Broadcasting the fact that your home is empty is an invitation to criminals who scour social media sites looking for just that information. Furthermore, your home insurer may refuse a burglary claim if you’ve advertised that your home is vacant on your social media accounts.

An extra social media safety tip when it comes to posting: only share information about others with their permission. You may find it innocent and harmless to post photos of your older children, grandchildren or friends but they may not be comfortable with that information being made public.

Social media safety and friend requests

While its quick and easy to add friends to social media accounts – rapidly building up a large collection of social friends – it’s worth being selective when it comes to accepting friends’ requests. Just as in real life, you don’t have to be friends with everyone who sends you a friend’s request. Instead, connect only with people you know in real life or whose identity you know for sure is absolutely genuine.

A popular scam by hackers and fraudster is to set up fake social media accounts in order to befriend people online, and then steal personal information. Unless you genuinely know the person and can confirm it is their social media account, don’t just accept friends’ requests as they could be scammers impersonating someone else.

Social media safety privacy settings

Make good use of the social media site’s privacy and security settings to protect your personal information. Read the site’s privacy policy and access any privacy and accounts settings to see what options you have. There may be some areas you hadn’t considered that you definitely want to make private once you see all of the options.

For example, to change Facebook’s privacy settings, click the dropdown arrow at the top right of your Facebook page, and select Settingsand then Privacy. Here you can set who can see your profile, your posts and photos and what appears in your timeline. It’s wise to set everything so that only friends can see your information – avoid leaving anything open to Public view.

Many social media sites offer to access and upload any contacts from your computer, such as email and contacts applications. While it sounds a timesaver, avoid uploading all your friends email addresses. Some social media sites will then automatically email then entire list saying you’ve joined the social media site.

Discover the essential actions you can take to prevent identity theft: 12 ways to stop identity fraud.

Don’t click on social media links

Be wary of clicking on the links you receive in messages, tweets and posts from friends as well as advertising on your social media website. These may be links to viruses or other forms of malicious content.Treat them as you would links in email messages.

Be wary of third-party apps

Many social media networks such as Facebook offer games, puzzles and quizzes – created by other companies and known as third-party apps. They can be great fun but check first before playing or taking part. Look out for what data and permissions you give the app over your account. For example, an innocent-looking social media puzzle game may request access to your location, friends and contacts, the ability to post on your timeline and your phone number. If you’re not happy with sharing that information with a random company, then decline the app.

Linking accounts and social media safety

As social media networks have grown, so has the number of websites that offer to streamline any sign-up processes by allowing you to use your social media profile to register and log onto the account. Some online stores or web services allow you to, for example, ‘Sign in with Facebook’ – saving the hassle of creating a new account for the online store.

While this may seem a quick way to register, it means your social network may share all the information it holds about you, including your birthday, your email address, employment details and photos. By using just one log-in for multiple sites, if your Facebook or social media account is then hacked, all your accounts may be compromised too. The best advice is to skip social media log-in options and create a dedicated account.

Use a separate email for social media accounts

When setting up a social media account, consider creating a separate webmail account to use with each social network. That way, your main email account which you may use for banking, online shopping or other sensitive transactions will be protected from any spam or phishing email you may receive. There are lots of free and easy-to-create webmail services from companies such as Google Mail and Microsoft’s Outlook.com.