Editor’s note: Deborah Millhouse is President of CEO Inc.

CHARLOTTE – In August, the popular job website Monster.com admitted it had a bit of a problem. Specifically, computer hackers used a Trojan – basically a search virus that infiltrates a program and uploads data to a remote server – to steal information from 1.6 million resumes posted on the Monster.com website.

“The company has determined that this incident is not the first time Monster’s database has been the target of criminal activity,” said Sal Iannuzzi, chairman and CEO of Monster Worldwide, in a letter e-mailed to Monster.com users.

The letter further states that Monster believes the illegally downloaded contact information may be used to lure job seekers into opening a “phishing” email that attempts to acquire financial information or lure job seekers into fraudulent financial transactions. While most resumes don’t contain Social Security or driver’s license numbers, it is unlikely the stolen information could be used to directly access financial accounts. But the type of information accessed still gives cyber criminals enough to send personalized messages that could be interpreted as legitimate requests from their banks or other financial institutions, or entice recipients into downloading malicious software.

Monster’s recent incident is not isolated, but it should serve as a wake-up call to job seekers and users of other computer networking sites that post or request personal information such as birthdate, home address, e-mail and school or work information. Bottom line: anytime you put personal data out there, you can never be sure where it will end up.

Secondary to this concern, job seekers need to make sure the job sites they are using is are indeed legitimate and a good fit for their job search needs. Too many job seekers are easily enticed into posting their resume or other information, without thought, to any site that promises to connect them with a new opportunity. Just because a site doesn’t appear to present a danger doesn’t mean it will connect you with a new job.

So how can job seekers maximize their employment opportunities while protecting their personal information? First, use only job sites that are familiar and well-known. Be suspicious of any site that requires you to register before you perform a job search. Make sure the site has a Privacy Policy and read it to determine where your information may be shared or sold. Find out who can access your resume and how the process works. Visit the “employer” side of the job site to determine how easy it is to gain access to posted resumes.

Determine if the site is effective for your job search needs. Does it charge the job seeker? It shouldn’t. The site should be user-friendly and work properly – i.e. returning specific results in your location or career field. The site should also include jobs with posting dates, ranging from today’s date to some posted 30 days ago or more.

If you decide a job website is for you, verify if you can delete your resume after you’ve found a job. You don’t want your new employer to find it, thinking you’re looking to leave, and it creates additional opportunity for someone to access your information. Also, investigate if you can post your resume but block senders from viewing contact information. Potential employers would then have to take additional steps to contact you through the job site provider, but such action can add market value as you will be viewed as someone who wants to protect their current job, as well as their personal information.

Do keep in mind that you can still find good jobs “the old-fashioned way.” Newspaper classifieds, research of companies followed by direct contact with Human Resources departments, networking at professional events, or MY FAVORITE – working with a search firm or executive recruiter – can all be effective and generally safe ways to find a new opportunity. They also can serve as excellent ways to distinguish your resume from the 1.6 million job seekers using job websites, who are just waiting for someone to access and use their personal information for something other than employment. In your job search, beware of monsters.

Deborah Millhouse is President of CEO Inc., which specializes in Recruiting the Best People for YOUR Firm. She can be reached at 704-372-4701.