As of this year, it has been estimated that 73 percent of Americans have a social media profile. Some of the most common platforms, visited by millions of people every day, are Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.
There is no doubt that these websites have completely revolutionized the ways in which we communicate with each other. Once virtually the exclusive domain of college students, social media is now a place where people of all ages can share photos, videos and any other information about their day that they choose.
Unfortunately, while this may benefit our social lives, it also opens people up to the increasing threat of identity theft.
In a recent blog post for the Huffington Post, Adam Levin, former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, described this form of identity theft as a “socially transmitted disease.”
“The more you put out there in publicly viewable spaces, the more your personal identity mosaic is exposed,” Levin writes. “An identity thief’s day job is piecing together that mosaic into a passable, or useable, version of you: one that will get through the authentication process of financial, medical or governmental organizations.”
It doesn’t necessarily matter if you check social media sites every hour or if you visit them every few days. Even those who do not use social media as frequently as others may still be at risk, depending on the information that they have shared.
Levin went on to describe some of the specific types of posts that should be kept off every social media profile. Here are a few prominent examples:
- Don’t share your location. Law enforcement officials have long warned homeowners about posting their vacation plans on Facebook. While it may seem harmless to brag about your travel plans to friends, it is actually a signal to potential thieves that your house is going to be empty and unguarded during that time. However, Levin goes even further. The problem with posting any kind of location information — including your home address or home town — is that identity thieves can make use of this when trying to break through the authentication pages of your online accounts. These are common answers to security questions on many financial websites.
- Be careful about posting pictures. It is considered unwise to place expensive items on the curb for recycling, because it signals to passing thieves that there are things in your home worth stealing. The same can be said for posting pictures online. You may love your new car, but those pictures tell identity thieves that you have money worth chasing.
- Understand your privacy settings. One of the most unfortunate things about identity theft committed through social media is that the risk can be mitigated as long as people understand how their privacy settings work. For instance, Facebook allows users to set a post as “public,” for “friends only” or as “private.” This can make a big difference when keeping your personal information secure.
Social media is only going to grow in popularity in the coming years, and users will have to be aware of how these websites affect their privacy. Heavy social media users may want to consider signing up for a credit monitoring services, which will alert them in the event that signs of potentially fraudulent activity appears on their credit files.