Identity Theft: Social Networking

Social media sites earn money through targeted advertising based on personal information.  So, they encourage registered users to provide as much information as possible.  With limited government oversight, privacy and identity protection, or industry standards or incentives to educate users on security, users are exposed to identity theft and fraud.  These sites have a lot of confidential user information, and are likely vulnerable to outside (or inside) attack.

Don’t Provide Personal Information 

It is always better to leave out information about yourself than to include it in social media.  Use no information at all, or if you really want to include some information, use a general description of that information such as a large geographical area like Atlanta rather than your specific current city, like Decatur.

Adjust Your Privacy Settings

Go into the settings for your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn, and edit your privacy settings.  Make sure you make all of your personal information — such as your birthday, current location, workplace, etc. — private or visible to only your friends.  Without strict privacy settings, you’re allowing strangers easy access to all of your information.

The Dangers of Location Tagging

Tagging or posting your specific location can be fun, but it can also be dangerous.  It makes you and your home vulnerable, especially if your profile is public.  It’s fun to let your social media friends know that you’re at the beach with your friends; however you’re also letting everyone know that you’re far from your home, which makes it available for break-ins.  If you have a roommate or family still at that home, you’ve also made them vulnerable to robbery or assault.


It’s important not to make you or your information vulnerable to people who you have never met before in real life.  These unknown “friends” can learn information about you from your page that they can then use to find out or guess your email address or the answers to your security questions.  The following profile elements can be used to steal or misappropriate your identity:

  • Full name (particularly your middle name)
  • Date of birth (often required)
  • Home town
  • Relationship status
  • School locations and graduation dates
  • Pet names, and
  • Other affiliations, interests and hobbies.

You can, and you should, decline requests from people you don’t know.  If you’ve added someone and later realize you don’t actually know, you can always unfriend, unfollow, or unconnect them.

Online Safety 

Always log out of your social media, especially when you’re using a public computer at a library or hotel.  The reality is that everyone has some private information on our social media accounts — even if it’s only a name and a photo — and you don’t want to give someone easy access to your identity.

Use strong passwords.  Passwords are one of the keys to protecting your identity, so make them effective.  Visit here for helpful tips.

Also use an Internet security software suite such as McAfee and Norton It protects your identity when you’re surfing the web or using social media. 

Social Networking Tips

Here are some tips to enjoy social media without making your information too vulnerable: 

  • Never, ever give out your social security number or driver’s license number.
  • Consider unique user names and passwords for each profile.
  • Vary your passwords and change them regularly.
  • Don’t give out your username and password to third parties (even if it helps you connect to others and build your network).
  • Minimize the use of personal information on your profiles that may be used for password verification or phishing attacks.
  • Avoid listing the following information publicly: date of birth, hometown, home address, year of your high school or college graduation, primary e-mail address.
  • Only invite people to your network that you know or have met, as opposed to friends of friends and strangers.
  • For password security verification questions, use a password for all answers (rather than the answer to the specific question, like “What is your mother’s maiden name?”).
  • When age-shifting to protect your real birthday, keep the date close; otherwise, you may expose yourself to age discrimination.
  • Watch where you post and what you say, as it can be used against you later.
  • Google yourself regularly and monitor your credit using the free annual report or monthly monitoring services.

Consumers need to be educated on the proper use of social media as it relates to protecting privacy and security. Social networks also need to understand the impact of not addressing security and privacy issues. If the information becomes corrupted, it not only casts doubt on the social network, but on your real-life personality, as well.

Further Reading

7 Ways to Avoid ID Theft on Social Media Networks