August 5, 2015

Share Everywhere

How to Keep Your Identity Safe on Social Media

Social media presents a rich mine of information for identity thieves, a threat that we’ve covered here several times before. Our tips range from being cautious about posting photos of your kids to changing your password every three months.

Those are still great strategies for social media safety. As you get savvier about information sharing, though, criminals specializing in social media identity theft are also looking for new ways to get details on you. Making the situation even more difficult, social media companies are now requiring more factual data for account activation.

For example, Facebook requires users to create accounts under their real names, a policy that’s come under fire as discriminatory. Several social media sites, including Facebook, collect personal information and have at least some degree of access to it — for instance, LinkedIn only lets you list a Twitter account in your profile if you first give permission to share follower lists and posting privileges.

As both criminals and legitimate sites seek more personal information about you, it may be time to step up some personal defenses of your own; even if that means excluding some details. Here are some tips for increasing social media safety:

  • Don’t give specifics: Social media identity theft relies on seemingly inconsequential details that can be linked together. The more you share specific dates, names and facts, the easier it is for thieves to impersonate you. For instance, if someone asks you when you’re taking vacation (leaving your house open to possible theft), you can respond privately or simply be vague. Even a joking response like, “not soon enough!” may be enough to direct the online conversation elsewhere.
  • Don’t rely on privacy settings: Sites like Facebook assure users that some information can be kept private and shown only to the user (e.g. birthdate, previous addresses, family members, life events). But what happens if the site is hacked? Or if you accidentally change your settings? The better strategy is to withhold as much personal data as possible, especially details that can be used for identity theft.
  • Change your identity: While surfing online, you’re often asked for your name and other details. However, if the site doesn’t have a “real name” policy like Facebook, you can invent a name and give false, or vague “facts.” To go one step further, creating a separate email address for this profile can be useful when signing up for newsletters and downloading online content (from reputable sources, of course). Some people develop fake personas, complete with made-up job history, address, birthdate and other details. This might be extreme, but at the very least, don’t give out your name unless truly necessary.
  • Watch your friends and family: You might do everything right for social media security by limiting personal information, having strong passwords and maintaining high security settings. Then your grandmother posts on your wall and innocently hands over a wealth of information. Unfortunately, this happens all the time. What to do? Quickly delete the post and send a private message or email to the other person, explaining why you don’t want such sensitive details shared online.

Criminals specializing in social media identity theft are constantly trolling for information they can use. Disappoint them by sharpening your social media safety tactics.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Howie.

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Heidi Daitch

Director, Strategic Programs at IdentityForce
Heidi is a busy working mom who juggles many of the same responsibilities and challenges at home and at work - a long list of things to do and not enough time to do everything. With so little time, Heidi tries hard to find simple, but effective strategies to save time for what’s really important – spending time with her family.
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