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New column answers questions about crime

The Alexandria Police Department and the Echo Press have teamed together to create "Cop Talk, Ask the Alexandria Police Department."

This type of partnership is another partnership created to help keep Alexandria a great place to live, work and raise a family. Each article will feature an answer to a question from a reader, a safety tip or some timely topic. If you have a question you would like answered in "Cop Talk, Ask the Alexandria Police Department," or have other crime prevention or safety questions, send an e-mail to

Social networking

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and several others are very popular these days. These websites can be great tools to stay in touch with people. We may stay in contact with family members who live a long ways away, long lost friends, a sibling or a child that has gone away to college or simply for networking purposes. However, there are some things users should be aware of to help protect themselves and their family.

Social networking sites are a great source of information for people who want to use the Internet to gather information. Their intentions may not always be good, however. They may be looking for contact information, addresses, children, places of work or when someone is going on vacation. Why would people want to do this? Maybe they want to play a prank and e-mail you or sign you up on some e-mail list you don't want to be on. Maybe they want to find out where you live. Or maybe they want to find out when you are going on vacation so they can take advantage of that and break into your home.

There are actually websites that track peoples' postings for information about where they are. So, someone can use that information to find out where you are and maybe more importantly, where you are not. If they know that you are going out of town for a few days, it opens up opportunity for people that may be up to no good to take advantage of that information.

What can I do to protect myself? The things listed earlier are not necessarily a reason not to use these websites. Like stated in the second paragraph, these are great ways to stay in touch with people. Users of these websites should be aware of the negative sides of these pages and protect their information as much as possible.

First, if you are using the social networking sites, you don't have to stop. Just be careful! Don't put your address or phone number on your page. People that may need that information probably already have it. If they don't have, but want it, they can contact you through the website to get that information.

Also, make sure your page is as secure as possible so not everyone can see your page. This can be accomplished through the account and security settings on your page. Make sure that only the people you approve can see the information on your page. For example, on Facebook, the page can be open/unlocked so everyone can see your information, it can be set so friends of friends can see your information or set so just your friends can see it.

If someone asks to be your "friend" on one of these sites, don't automatically accept them. A good rule of thumb is that if you don't know the person, don't accept them as a friend. Limiting the people that have access to your information is another way to keep information secure.

So, what's the bottom line? If you're using social networking sites, it's not necessary to quit them. If you are considering signing up for one, just be aware of the negative side of them and take the appropriate steps to protect your information.

Also, if you have an account with these sites, be sure your page is secure. Overall, these sites can be a positive thing, and taking a few moments to keep the page secure and not posting unnecessary information can keep these pages fun and safe.