The Internet has completely changed how the world interacts. You used to call or write to your friends directly to tell them news about your life. They might have “shared your updates” by telling others, and the worst that would have happened was gossip spreading with neighbors or in classrooms. Today, a good amount of information is publicly shared online to the world. The gossip epidemic might have weaned, since everyone can now get the information right from the source, but there is a huge cost. Where gossip was once limited to the people who knew you, information spread on social networks can be dangerous, as people can use your information to do actual harm. That information in the wrong hands has contributed to a 13% increase in identity theft in 2011, based on a survey by Javelin Strategy & Research.
Broadcasting Your Passwords
When you setup your online accounts, such as a bank or email, you try and choose a password that is tough to guess, but easy for you to remember. Unfortunately the information you use to create these secret passwords and to verify your identity is also broadcasted to the world through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. According to the Identity Theft 911 Blog, out of all the people that have public social media profiles on those networks, 68% share their birth date information, with 45% of them actually giving away the month, date and year of their birth. Birthdays are a high ranking secret used for passwords. It gets worse. 63% shared the name of their high school, 18% shared their phone number and 12% shared their pets names. Of course, even more secret password information is for grabs on the internet.
Telling the World Where You Are and What You Like
Another big problem with social networks that can lead to identity theft is geotagging and posting that you are not at home. Entrepreneurs’ Organization states that if you announce on Facebook or Twitter that you are on vacation or geotag yourself out of town, would be thieves know that your house is most likely vacant and prime for robbing. Even worse, if you post that you are out of town on business, then it leaves your family vulnerable to assault or attack. In addition, if you post images of your home, or of activities you are involved in on Flickr or YouTube, it gives criminals even more insight into your life and opens you up for identity theft.
Keep It Safe
All is not lost. You can take a proactive stance in keeping your identity safe by enlisting the help of a 3rd party to monitor your personal information online. Companies like LifeLock back their services with a $1 million guarantee, and will monitor your credit as well as send you alerts when potential fraud with any of your accounts are occurring. There are also many DIY precautions you can take to keep yourself safe. Digital Trends advises never to set your Facebook privacy to public, and to choose to limit your past posts to friends only, in case you made a mistake before you realized the consequences. Other tips they give include going into your security settings and enabling secure browsing and login notifications so you can be informed of new devices accessing your account. You can also choose login approvals, so Facebook will require that a code be used for you to access your account.
If you are careful of what you put online, use good privacy settings, and have experts monitor your personal information, the web does not have to be a scary place.