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Posted on May 27, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

What began as a way for young people to brag about their first job ended up with 28 people being investigated for fraud and identity theft. All because of a simple hashtag.

In October 2014, people started posting selfies to Instagram and other social media sites with their first-ever paychecks and using the hashtag #myfirstpaycheck. But once criminals began noticing, CNN noted, the posts may as well have been tagged with #StealMyIdentity.

Thieves used the account numbers, bank routing information, and check recipient names and addresses to open bank accounts and create counterfeit checks. In total, the defendants collected more than $2 million in fraudulent proceeds, asserted federal prosecutors. Two of those charged were bank employees.

According to check processing company Deluxe Corporation, the incident showcases that “we live in a world where we must always be vigilant.” That includes being prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Smarter Posting Habits

As we saw with #myfirstpaycheck, posts that may seem innocent at first may actually pose a threat by increasing your identity theft risk. Be sure to employ strong social media privacy strategies by limiting posts that contain the following information:

  • Personal details: Identity thieves often use leaks in social media privacy to collect information such as your birthdate, mother’s maiden name and home address. Sharing details about where you live can allow thieves to pinpoint your house and even know its layout, thanks to the photos you post.
  • Your schedule: Although it’s commonplace to share thoughts about what you’re overhearing at the coffee shop or how boring it is at work, posting your location in real time can present a risk. Identity thieves who know you’re not home can steal mail, go through the trash, and even break into your home and take sensitive documents.
  • Security questions: Two-step verification can be an effective tool for preventing identity theft, but not when thieves can easily guess your security-question responses based on social media posts. For example, common questions can include the name of your pet, which high school you attended, the name of your oldest nephew and so on. Some people reveal this information through their social media posts. Make sure you don’t inadvertently give away your security answers when you’re posting updates.
  • Someone else’s details: When posting a comment on a friend’s social media page, keep that person’s security in mind as well as your own. Divulging details that the person hasn’t given out publicly — like the name of your mutual high school or her child’s name — can violate the social media privacy controls that your friend has put in place. Similarly, be sure no one posts information about you and your family that you don’t want shared, whether it’s on your page or someone else’s page.

Whenever you have a moment of hesitation about what to post — whether it’s about paycheck-induced enthusiasm or upcoming vacation plans — listen to that gut instinct. And remember that it’s not only your friends and family who are following you online. Employing good strategies for social media privacy now will keep you from facing a #myfirstpaycheck experience later.

Image courtesy of Flickr uer Wystan.