[IMGCAP(1)]A colleague recently asked me if I had ever been “catfished” on social media. Catfished is a term that describes a situation of fraud within the social media space. Essentially, it’s when a person claims to be someone they are not. You might recall the recent catfishing case involving Notre Dame football player Mante Te’o. The well-known athlete was virtually duped by someone claiming to be his girlfriend. I can say that I have not been catfished, but it’s still smart to take precautions to avoid it.

I believe this is an important topic to discuss in order to relieve some irrational fears that surround social media. You can take steps to protect yourself while remaining active in the social space. Here are a few excellent tips:

1.    Do your research. How many times have you Googled a potential client after meeting with him/her? The same process applies in social media. If you meet individuals online, look them up and check them out.

2.    Take the conversation offline. After initially engaging in conversation via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, move the conversation beyond social media. Continue with a phone call or email.

3.    Do your due diligence. Take the time to really investigate your new contact. Run a Dun and Bradstreet report or other background check. Also, ask for a referral from someone who has done business with them.

There seems to be a perception in the profession that social media isn’t worth the potential risk. This is truly not an accurate perception of social media. The majority of people who are active within social media channels are good individuals looking for networking opportunities—people just like you. Don’t let the few bad apples ruin your taste for social media. Take a few precautions and you can avoid being catfished.

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is a Certified Public Accountant experienced with Complex Federal & State Income Tax Compliance for Business & Individuals. Jody is an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, where she teaches Taxation and QuickBooks Courses. She is part of Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various Technologies and Taxation. She can be reached at www.newvisioncpagroup.com.