MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Insurance agents are trolling policyholders' Facebook pages and Twitter threads, searching for posts that reveal risky behavior.
"If there is risky behavior, that's fine, but you're going to pay for it in higher premiums," said Jim Summers, attorney for the Allen Summers law firm (www.allensummers.com) and a leading legal source on Internet privacy and security. "An insurance company...not only can they do it, they've been doing it for some time."
Some time ago, Nathalie Blanchard of Canada couldn't work anymore due to a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. Her employer ordered her to go on long-term disability insurance.
But the underwriter of her employer's insurance policy cut off her disability income after one of its representatives pulled pictures from her Facebook page. The pictures depicted her partying at a Chippendales event.
The rep also captured some of her posts with comments about climbing a mountain near where she lives.
"She told me that she had taken some pictures (from) my Facebook and some sentences, and that I am not sick," said Blanchard. She's hired an attorney.
"I will do it if necessary," said Bennita Wade, an independent Memphis insurance agent. "We have so many policy-holders who do the right thing, that this risky behavior can cost so much money. Tracking that risky behavior can help keep responsible policyholders' premiums down."
But Patty Tredway of Reputation.com (www.reputation.com), one of the leading web resources on Internet privacy, said, "Many industries-- health insurers included-- are using (social media) to compile detailed digital dossiers of individuals. They adjust claims and rates based on what they find about you online."
Summers said actuaries -- professionals who calculate insurance and annuity premiums -- actually set the trend for using social networks as investigative tools in weighing risks versus benefits.
"If you're dumb enough to put anything on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter," said Summers, "don't be surprised when someday, it reaches up and bites you."
Be discreet -- and know how to manage your privacy settings. Kristin Burnham, writer for the business technology site www.CIO.com, offered what she called the ten "must-know" Facebook security settings:
* INFORMATION YOUR FRIENDS SHARE ABOUT YOU. "When your Facebook friends use games and applications, those apps can request information about other friends—i.e. you—even if you don't use the app," wrote Burnham. "This information can include your bio, photos, political views and places where you check-in."
SOLUTION: "Visit Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites. Click 'Edit Settings' next to 'Info accessible through your friends' and uncheck any necessary boxes."
* SOCIAL ADS. Those ads that pop up on your Facebook page that uncannily seem to know what you like to buy? Those appear because of an action you have taken on your page, such as "liking" a certain page.
SOLUTION: Go to Account Settings and click on the Facebook Ads tab. From the drop-down menu, click either "no one" or "only my friends" or "friends only."
* APPLICATION SETTINGS. "Choose Account > Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites," Burnham wrote. "Then, next to 'Apps you use' choose Edit Settings. Here, you can see which applications you've authorized to interact with your account, when you authorized them to do so, edit the settings or delete the application entirely."
* REMOTE SIGN-OUT. This setting allows you to log out of your Facebook page remotely if you forgot to log off at home or work.
"From 'Account' choose 'Account Settings,' then 'Account Security,'" wrote Burnham. "Here, you can choose to get notified via (text) or e-mail if a new computer or mobile device logs into your account."
* FACEBOOK CHECK-INS. Burnham wrote, "With this feature enabled, your Facebook friends can tag you and 'check you in' to a place. You receive a notification when you're tagged, and an update is posted on your wall telling your friends where you are and who you're with. You can remove the tag at any time."
SOLUTION: "To disable the feature, visit Account > Privacy Settings > Customize Settings. Scroll to the middle section—'things others share'—and click 'Edit settings' next to 'Friends can check me into Places.'"
"I recommend turning off all notifications," said Summers. "Letting all your Facebook friends know where you are all the time is an unnecessary risk."
* INCLUSION IN THE "PEOPLE HERE NOW" SETTING. "By default, your name and Facebook profile picture appear in the list, which is visible to anyone—friend or not—who checks in to the same location," wrote Burnham.
SOLUTION: "To disable this setting, visit Account > Privacy Settings > Customize Settings, and then uncheck the box at the bottom of the first section that reads, 'Include me in 'People Here Now' after I check in.'"
* YOUR FACEBOOK PROFILE SHOWING UP ON SEARCH ENGINES. "If someone Googles your name, it's possible that your Facebook profile, along with your profile picture and any other information you've made public, will turn up as a result," wrote Burnham.
SOLUTION: "Go to 'Account' then 'Privacy Settings' and choose 'Edit your settings' under the 'Apps and Websites.' Click 'Edit Settings' next to the last option, 'Public search,' and uncheck the box to disable it."
* ONE-TIME PASSWORDS. You have the option of creating one-time passwords on Facebook if you must check your page on an unsecured Wi-Fi network, like at a hotel, coffee shop or airport.
"To receive your one-time password, text "otp" to 32665 (FBOOK) on your mobile phone and you'll receive a password that can be used only once and expires in 20 minutes," wrote Burnham. "This feature is only available in the United States."
* PHOTO ALBUMS. Burnham said you may have set some of your Facebook photos to be private, but left your photo albums wide-open.
SOLUTION: "Go to your 'Privacy Settings' page and choose 'Customize settings.' At the bottom of the first section, click 'Edit album privacy.' Here you'll see every one of your photo albums, and each of their assigned privacy settings," wrote Burnham.
* INSTANT PERSONALIZATION. Burnham said sites like Bing, Pandora and Yelp support instant personalization, which allows you to see what your friends like in pages, songs or news stories. "Instant Personalization uses information you made public on your Facebook profile to make recommendations," she wrote.
SOLUTION: "To opt out, visit your Privacy Settings page, then choose 'Edit your settings' under 'Apps and Websites' at the bottom," she wrote. "Scroll to the bottom, click 'Edit Settings' next to 'Instant personalization' and uncheck the box on the next page."
"For optimal security, I recommend 'Friends Only' for all access points," added Summers. "Turn off 'Friends of Friends,' and never use that setting again."