Your Online Presence: The Security Pros and Cons

Are you a social media addict, or do you shun the whole Facebook and Twitter thing? No matter how connected you are or aren’t, a new report from Javelin Strategy & Research shows there may be pros and cons to both.

First, the general findings of their study: there were 15.4 million US victims of identity theft or fraud in 2016, which marks a 16% increase from the year before. Even more upsetting, despite better public awareness of the crime and law enforcement action, this is the highest number of victims since Javelin first began following this trend thirteen years ago. A spokesman for the company even reported that every type of fraud they track showed an increase and that some types, like card-not-present fraud, went up by as much as 40% over the prior year.

In the face of such daunting numbers, how does your social media presence play a part?

According to Kelli Grant from CNBC, “More than three-quarters of victims who make frequent online purchases detected fraud within a week of it beginning, the report found. (The catch: Consumers with a heavy social media or online presence were also more likely to be fraud targets.) In comparison, ‘offline consumers’ who don't do much shopping or banking online took more than 40 days to spot fraud, incurring more losses as a result.”

Here’s the breakdown: if you’re highly engaged online, you’re more likely to be a victim of fraud but you’re also more likely to spot it quickly and take action. If you’re not all that active on social media or through retail shopping websites, you may be less likely to become a victim but you’re also less likely to notice suspicious activity and take immediate action.

So there’s the catch-22. If you’re constantly checking Facebook or shopping on Amazon, you may increase your chances of being targeted by a thief, but you’re also more aware of your online accounts. But staying off the internet isn’t necessarily the answer since you’re in greater danger of not knowing someone has stolen your information.

How are you supposed to fight back when it looks like neither option is the best choice? By becoming digitally aware while still staying within your comfort zone.

If you’re constantly online, your best bet is to guard your accounts with strong, unique passwords. You don’t have to avoid social media or limit your shopping to brick-and-mortar retail stores, but if you’re going to engage with a global audience filled with potential identity thieves, you’ve got to make it as hard as possible to take over your accounts and commit fraud. In addition, take steps to protect your online shopping accounts with two-factor authentication when possible.

If you’re not ready to throw yourself out there on social media and would rather see your purchases with your own eyes before spending, that’s fine. You can still protect yourself while keeping the internet at arm’s length. Set up alerts with your financial institution so that the moment a suspicious charge is made, you’ll be notified. Even better, many banks and credit card companies offer text messages that will alert you anytime a card-not-present transaction takes place. You read the text, you see where the charge was made, and you decide if it was genuine or fraudulent.

Of course, developing the good habit of scanning your online accounts periodically can’t hurt. Log in, look over your recent charges, and take immediate action if anything out of the ordinary appears. It’s a great way to not only be on the lookout for fraud but also to keep a close eye on your own spending habits.


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