Social media sites, outlets and applications have become popular means of communication, interaction and expression in the Digital Age. While social media platforms provide a number of benefits for users — communicating with friends, advertising products and sharing content — they can also arm scammers with personal information for committing identity theft. Even seemingly harmless posts could help criminals crack passwords, steal identities and commit burglary.
Downsides to social media sharing
Social media platforms are designed to encourage communication, but criminals can tap into this connectivity for illegal purposes. Consider the following commonly used features:
- Check-In – By “checking in” to a restaurant or a venue, you inform friends and followers of your location. If you check into a location in real time, anyone following your social media activity can recognize that you’re away from home and estimate the time it will take you to complete your visit – leaving your property vulnerable to burglary.
- Revealing personal information - When you join social media sites, you’re often given the option to enter several pieces of personal information, such as your date of birth, home address and current employer. This information anchors social media profiles and forms the critical portion of an online profile. But by filling out several of these categories, you can give enough information for scammers and hackers to guess passwords. For instance, if you provide a maiden name and enough personal information, like email and hometown, an observer may be able to use this information to guess passwords or impersonate you and claim that they have lost a password. Oftentimes, sites rely on personal questions to confirm lost passwords requests. With enough information, a hacker may correctly guess the answers to these questions.
- Revealing images - While many people consider photos a fun way to share experiences and connect with friends, posting certain photos can be dangerous. For instance, much like statuses, vacation photos alert thieves that you’re not home. Lastly, some people post photos of official documents to celebrate a milestone. Be aware that marriage licenses, student loans and mortgage completions contain sensitive information – information that can be used for identity theft.
Using social media safely
To reduce the chance that someone will use information you’ve posted on social media to steal your identity or burglarize your home, remember the following:
- Use the privacy features available on social media. You should be able to limit the information you share online to only your friends or followers on those social media sites. This prevents strangers from viewing or accessing that information.
- Limit the amount of personal information you provide and consider excluding that information from social media sites where that information is publicly shared.
- Exercise caution when sharing your location with a GPS-enabled service. If you want to share a meal or concert picture, do so after the fact, when followers cannot ascertain your current whereabouts.
- Post photos cautiously. For example, share vacation photos only after you’ve returned and block out any personal information on sensitive documents you share, such as college acceptance letters.
Social media sites connect users in extraordinary ways, allowing people to communicate and share information like never before. But with that connectivity comes risks. Thankfully, by being mindful of the posts you share, you can help keep your personal information out of the wrong hands.