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Identity Theft on the Rise Thanks to Social Media

Could your Tweets, posts on your Facebook page, Instagram photos, and information on your LinkedIn profile be making you more prone to becoming a victim of identity theft?

With the growing amount of activity and time we spend on social media, whether for entertainment, social purposes, or business, we become more comfortable with the idea of having personal information on the internet. This gives a sense of trust and false security which may lead us to publicly posting information that might help someone that’s looking for an opportunity to steal our identity! We must be aware of what we share to prevent identity theft.

Any information or preferences that you share through social media can be used in combination with other things to piece together an idea of who you are, and help identity thieves to assume your identity either to:

• Figure out security passwords
• Access your financial accounts or funds
• Open false lines of credit under your identity
• Assume your identity and commit crimes

Something as simple as “checking in” on Facebook or tweeting that you’re at this amazing restaurant or taking a vacation, tells a thief your location and also exposes the fact that your house is vulnerable. Or, even if you’re being smart and not posting anything but the basic profile information, social media sites have started asking for more personal information as you sign-up, making it harder to prevent identity theft. Some of this requested account information includes:

• Full Names (including your middle name)
• Date of Birth (to verify you’re over a certain age)
• Schooling/Education (graduation dates and locations)
• Profile Photo
• Hometown or Current City
• Who You’re Related To
• Relationship Status
• Pet names
• Affiliations, Interests, and Hobbies
• Accomplishments

Using just this basic information, an identity thief can start their own profiles under your name to use for malicious or fraudulent activity or to gain access to your private account by guessing your passwords and answering your security questions.

Another vulnerable access point for users is when you download or use apps tied to your social media channels, many of which have not been reviewed or verified, because this allows the app to pull information that you’ve shared on your profile. If someone can bypass the security on the app, then they have access to your profile information.

Due to a lack of strict standard regulations or requirements to safeguard users sharing their personal information, social media organizations are left own their own in deciding how they protect their users/members from being exposed to identity theft or fraud. These social media platforms are motivated to gather detailed information because they can use it to generate revenue by either sharing some of that information to advertisers or by providing targeted marketing opportunities directly to those advertisers.

Some steps to prevent identity theft, aside from erasing all your accounts on social media (which still may leave you vulnerable, since there’s left-over data floating around) is to:

• Be smart and never give out your confidential information, such as social security numbers or driver’s license number
• Use different passwords for the various accounts, and change them often
• Use a unique username and password for each profile or account
• Consider using a nickname rather than your real name
• If you must enter personal identifying data to sign-up, use privacy settings to hide information that you wouldn’t share with a stranger
• For social or professional networking, be wary of providing too much information, rather try to connect in person
• Only accept invitations or offers to connect from people you have actually met and know
• To ensure your passwords stay secure, use code words or a password for all answers to security verification questions rather than entering the actual answer
• If entering a false birth date to protect that information, keep the date close to one you’ll remember
• Actively search for information about yourself, Google your name, your user name or ID, your email, and any other identifying information to see what’s out there
• Monitor your credit using your free annual credit report or by enrolling in a monthly subscription service

According to a State-of-the-Net survey conducted by Consumer Reports, if you experience identity theft, it can take 30+ hours, multiple phone conversations with various agencies, documentation, and possibly professional representation to prove you are the victim of identity theft, which can all cost hundreds of dollars. Instead of trying to clean up the mess, enact security measure to prevent identity theft in the first place.

Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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