While email scams have garnered a lot of the attention when it comes to online identity theft, you should be taking extra precautions when using social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, too. Research shows that even as awareness of this problem has increased over the last few years, many people still leave readily available personal information on these websites.
For example, in a 2007 study by Sophos research, roughly 40 percent of Facebook users befriended phony users set up by the company. From these Web pages, around 80 percent of respondents divulged their email address, date of birth and current address, and around one in four gave their instant messaging screen name. The good news is, taking certain protections can help guard you against identity thieves who use social media as a way to get this kind of information out of you. For instance, you could subscribe to an identity theft or credit protection service.
Why Social Media Privacy Is Important
When you sign into your banking providers' websites, often you'll have to prove your identity by entering certain information, such as a mother's maiden name or a pet's name. Often, this same personal information is used in passwords on social sites, which means it could be discovered and used by an identity thief to dupe banks into giving him or her more information about you.
Only Accept Invitations From People You Know
Even though there can be social pressure to build up as many friends or connections as possible in your networks, many identity theft experts say social media users should exercise caution when it comes to agreeing to these invitations. Before accepting the friendship of another user, check to see if the name is familiar. If it's difficult to place the picture or name, check to see if this individual shares any mutual friends. If not, it may be wise to deny the friend request, or to send a personal message asking the other user why he or she sent the invitation.
Using Privacy Settings Effectively
Two or three years ago, it was more difficult to control information on social media outlets. However, this has changed recently, as many of these companies have adapted to the privacy concerns of users. For example, Facebook now allows users to decide whether they want a friend to view only a limited profile.
This can be a helpful tool for denying the advances of identity thieves. But before taking this action, you should ensure that your limited profile still doesn't give too much information away about you. Google+ users can also put users into "Circles," thereby controlling which ones have access to certain private information.