Social media is all about sharing. We post updates about how our day is going, share what our children are doing, show off pictures from family vacations, and even take pride in the cuteness of our pets.

There’s a feeling of community in social media, and that community continues to grow every day. In fact, Facebook adds more than 250,000 new users to its network daily, which makes it the fastest growing social networking website in the world today. But all of this sharing opens the door to the possibility of malice, as well as fun.

Sharing your information comes with risks. A really good hacker can skim a website like Facebook and extract information like your name, email address, location and even phone number simply viewing your profile. If your information is public, a hacker can access it with ease. Think you’re not at risk? Take a look at this simulation for a realistic look at the information someone can gather about you by hacking into your Facebook account: http://protectyourprofile.org

In social media, it’s more important than ever to take personal responsibility for the privacy settings you choose. Although each social media company has a privacy policy, it’s ultimately up to individual users to take precautions that keep your identity safe.

“Protecting yourself from online identity theft goes beyond awareness of making sure a site is secure before making a transaction or steering clear of strange requests in email,” says David Anderson, identity theft expert and director of product at global insurance company Protect Your Bubble.com. “It’s up to individuals to take commonsense precautions like restricting sensitive data on social sites.” He has several tips for keeping your personal information safe online.

Top 5 Ways to Proactively Prevent Your Data From Being Accessed:

Update your privacy settings on social media. Many privacy settings are set to share rather than hide your personal information by default. Take the initiative to update your settings and choose what you share and with whom. Also, pay attention to notices from social media channels saying privacy settings have been updated. When these notifications come through, take a quick peek at your account and make sure your profile is set up appropriately. Never include personal contact information, addresses or especially your bank account details in your social media profiles.

Create strong passwords: Make sure you choose passwords that are hard to guess. Never use the name of your favorite sports team, children or pets for passwords, and don’t use family birthdays or anniversaries as PINs for bank accounts.  Hackers can find this personal information on social sites like Facebook and use programs to guess your passwords. A combination of letters, numbers and symbols unrelated to your personal life is best.

Disable location-based services on your phone. According to the 2013 Javelin Strategy & Research Identity Fraud Report, smartphone owners have a 33% higher rate of ID fraud than that of the general public. If you auto upload a photo to social media from your phone with location services turned on, you just posted your whereabouts. Hackers can use that information to monitor your travel habits.  Think twice before allowing third parties access to the location services on your device.

Be careful about the apps you use. If you use apps to manage online banking or financial accounts, make sure the app is from a trusted source. Scammers are adept at creating official looking apps to collect data and use it maliciously or sell it on the black market. Double-check the source of your app before downloading.

Monitor children’s profiles. Kids that have grown up in the world of social media have no inhibitions about sharing their lives with the world. From announcing their activities to keeping their profile public and posting personal and sensitive data, they open themselves up to becoming victims of identity theft. Even worse, it often takes years to find out a child’s identity has been stolen because they don’t apply for credit and don’t have as much activity around their bank account.  Hackers know this and target children for this reason. By the time a compromise becomes apparent, a child’s credit may be ruined. Check your child’s credit at least once a year to make sure nothing funny is going on.

According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, no business, or government entity is solely responsible for securing the Internet. We all have to work toward foiling thieves by becoming aware of the ways personal information can be compromised in social media. Please take steps to protect yourself and share this information with others to help fight against identity theft.

"Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft in Social Media" was written by Stephen Ebbett. Stephen is the President of Protect your Bubble for Europe and North America. He often speaks and writes about the risk of identity theft.

 

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