11/16/2012 10:24 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2013

Young Adults: Avoid These Privacy Red Flags

Young adults applying for college or preparing to enter the workforce are sometimes shocked to find out that certain behaviors, which were either tolerated or ignored when they were younger, now fall under closer scrutiny and could actually hurt their advancement possibilities. Among the biggest culprits are oversharing sensitive personal information in public forums and getting extreme tattoos or body art that may not yet be fully acceptable in certain work environments.

For now, I'll bypass the obvious security risks of revealing too much personal information (not to mention the physical pain involved in getting or removing tattoos) and zero-in on a few issues that young adults just starting out may want to consider before taking actions that may be difficult to reverse.

Red Flags
It should be common knowledge that many employers perform online profile searches of job or internship candidates. They'll scour public postings on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube looking for inappropriate content like racy photos or videos, racist remarks or evidence of illegal activities that would rule out inappropriate candidates.

But many people don't realize that colleges, insurance companies, law enforcement and government agencies sometimes do the same. Thus, an underage student hoping to boost his cool factor by posting photos that show him engaging in drinking games could be disqualified for college admission or even have his scholarship revoked.

Another Example: Posting information about your medical or health issues could jeopardize your ability to get health insurance. And just imagine the damage a revealing posting could do if you're facing an IRS audit or an immigration hearing.

Privacy Settings
According to projections in a recent study by Consumer Reports, roughly 13 million Facebook users have never set, or didn't know about, the site's privacy tools, and 28 percent share all, or almost all, of their wall posts with more than just their friends. It pays to thoroughly read the privacy policies of all sites where you've registered, including social networks, your bank, retailers, blogs and news sites where you've made comments, etc.

Email is Forever
Deleting an email from your computer doesn't mean it no longer exists. Chances are your email provider -- or employer, if sent from work -- will retain a record for years to come. Plus, recipients won't necessarily delete the email and may in fact forward it to others. Worst case: Your words could get you fired or even be used as evidence against you in court; so think twice before posting derogatory comments about people or employers.

Haunting Photos
Just like emails, photos posted online can live forever. That includes pictures of you that someone else posted and tagged with your name. My rule of thumb: If you wouldn't want your grandmother to see it, don't do it, say it or film it. Also, don't post photos of your kids that might embarrass them or hurt their professional reputation down the road.

Resume Lies
It can be tempting to embellish the truth on your resume or during a job interview, but as recent headlines about disgraced executives being fired have shown, these lies can come back to haunt you. Employers can easily determine if the degree or past job titles you're claiming are legitimate. Another no-brainer: If your resume is posted online on or LinkedIn, make sure there aren't major inconsistencies with the one you submit to prospective employers.

Too Much Information
Many people post personal or nostalgic information about themselves on their profiles -- first pet's name, childhood addresses, favorite pizza topping, etc. Keep in mind that many websites where you do business (like banks) ask these kinds of security questions to ascertain your identity before you can log in.

Identity thieves have been known to mine this information and combine it with a stolen credit card or Social Security number to open bogus accounts or forge passports or other IDs. Avoid posting current and past addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, birth date, upcoming vacation schedules (you could be targeted for a break-in) and other personal information. Also, never use this type of information in your passwords.

I was surprised to read recently that one-fifth of adults have at least one tattoo -- the percentages are higher among younger adults. A few years ago, job candidates wouldn't get past the first interview if they were sporting tattoos; today, depending on the industry and type of customer contact involved, many employers are willing to look the other way.

However, some employers do enforce strict no-tattoo policies which, if based on sound business reasons, are legal. Fortunately, my own kids aren't old enough for body art to be a consideration, but when they are, I'll give them the same advice I'd give any young adult: Think about the long-term consequences of your actions.

You may plan on becoming a rock star, but if that doesn't happen and you need to enter corporate America, just realize that highly visible or offensive tattoos could hold back your career -- very few senior executives sport visible tattoos. And, if you later change your mind and want them removed, it's a very painful, expensive process: Laser removal typically costs hundreds of dollars per session and could require up to 20 sessions for removal.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.