Social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are an excellent way to connect with friends, share pictures, network, seek out employment opportunities and the like. Unfortunately, not everyone is using social media for this purpose; some individuals are using social media as a way to gain access to information that can help them commit crimes such as identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to access your bank or credit card accounts, open up new accounts in your name, or generally commit fraud or other crimes without your knowledge.
According to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2012 Identity Fraud Survey Report, over 11.6 million Americans have been a victim of identity theft and identity theft through social media is on the rise. Although the survey could not find a direct correlation between social media and identity theft, the study did find that consumers who use social media are at a greater risk of becoming a victim.
Many consumers believe their social media website is a safe space to share their personal information, but often they are revealing too much information. Could you be one of them? Follow these simple tips to help reduce the likelihood that you will be a victim of identity theft through your social media profile:
· Limit the information you make available on your profile: Do not list your phone number, date of birth (if you include your date of birth, omit the year in which you were born), names of relatives, where you work or have worked in the past, what schools you attended, mailing address, email address, pet’s name, hobbies and interests, etc. If the above information is available on your social media website, a thief may be able to find the answers to common security questions companies such as banks, ask to verify your identity.
– Do not accept strangers into your social network: Thieves try and connect with individuals they do not know to access their profile hoping they can find information that can be used to commit identity theft. If you and a stranger have a mutual friend, always ask your friend how they know the person before you connect with them. You may be surprised to find that your friend does not know the person very well. Also, be aware that some thieves create fake profiles using the names of real people you know so you are more likely to connect with them. Limit your connections to people you regularly socialize with.
– Update antivirus software: Antivirus software can be installed on your computer to detect and remove malware. Malware is software that infects your computer with viruses which can gather sensitive information from your computer. Typically, consumers get a virus on their computer by visiting websites that are infected with malware. Unfortunately, consumers tend to feel their social media website is a “safe” place and as a result, are more likely to click on third party website links shared by individuals within their social network. By clicking the link, you may be directed to a fake website that requests you enter your personal information or prompts you to “download” or “update” a program, both of which may infect your computer with malware. Once infected, the thief may send emails to your contacts through your social media account requesting or suggesting that your contacts click on a link which may infect their computer with malware or introduce some other scam. *It is important to remember that the account holder may not realize their account has been compromised until a later date and may not associate the problem with your account.
– Adjust your privacy settings: Many social media platforms allow you to adjust your privacy settings so that you control who can and cannot view your profile. Search your social media toolbox today to find out how to adjust your settings. Limit access to your profile to people that you know.
– Change your password every three months or more often: Many individuals use the same password for all of their accounts including banking, email, social media, etc. and rarely change them. If you use the same password for all accounts and a thief is able to access one of your passwords, you have inadvertently given them the password to all of your accounts. Create separate passwords for all of your accounts and change your password often. To help you remember to change your password, use a prompt such as an appointment on your calendar as a reminder.
Hopefully, neither your social media profile nor any of your other accounts that contain personal information will ever be compromised. If any of your accounts are compromised, contact the company that holds your account directly to learn about their recovery process. Also alert your contacts. This way in the event the thief tries to communicate with them requesting money or for some other scam they will be prepared. For more information on identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov or contact one of Debt Counseling’s Certified Personal Finance Counselors at 888.354.6332 and we can help you on your way to …a brighter tomorrow!