It’s funny how social media once seemed so frightening to many people. Post my private business online? Never! But with the widespread adoption of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, and even seemingly innocuous sites like the popular website storing site Pinterest, too many online users have become lax about keeping their personal information safe. So who’s the most guilty when it comes to posting inappropriate content online? The answer might surprise you. No, it’s not the partygoing college student or the rampant Spring Breaker…it’s your mom.
Yes, those social media users who are not part of the generation known as “digital natives” have become all too quick to share personal information—especially photographs—with their circles of friends without really understanding how information gets spread in social media.
While most people have hopefully heard about geo-tagging, or the coordinates that are embedded in a digital file when a photograph is taken with a smart phone or other mobile device, they may not realize that it’s not just the coordinates that can help a thief.
First of all, is your proud mom sharing too much information about you? For example, did your mom post on her wall how proud she is of her “baby” who got a new promotion at work? Well, congratulations, Senior Executive Vice President! Your mom just told a would-be burglar that you now have a lot more income.
How about oversharing of pictures of her grandkids? And with kids as beautiful as yours, who wouldn’t want to see their photos? I think I just said everything that needs to be said to make that scary. Unfortunately, your mom might not realize that it’s very easy to piece together basic information from someone based on the pictures she’s sharing. If she posts a photo from your son’s birthday, a predator can tell by the gifts in the background what your child’s interests are, leading him to figure out where you son practices soccer or where he goes roller skating. He also knows your son’s age, and if your mom posted those photos from her phone while at the party, he may even have your child’s actual birth date. If a pattern develops of when she took these pictures, such as different pictures being taken at the same time of day or in the same general area, a predator could even come to the conclusion that your mom babysits your son after school, for example, making her an easy victim as well.
One inadvertent mistake that many people make online is friending their mothers. No, don’t take that wrong, and don’t tell Mom I said that. What I meant was openly acknowledging that a particular social media user is your mother. If your mother openly posts that she is your mother, an identity thief may very well have your mother’s maiden name, especially if she uses it in her profile in order to be found more easily by her childhood friends. And now that he has your mother’s maiden name…you guessed it. He can easily supply the answer to the most commonly used security question, the one that’s tied to all of your financial accounts.
The most seemingly innocent posts can lead a criminal in the right direction. Everything from congratulating you on finishing your degree or sending well wishes while you’re in the Bahamas can lead to a case of stolen identity or stolen property. It’s important to help others understand the difference between safe sharing and oversharing, and make sure that you’re protected at all times.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.