In 2012, more than 12 million people became victims of identity theft and fraud, with an estimated total of $21 billion losses for the year alone, proving that these issues are growing problems in the US. The federal government, financial institutions and companies dealing with sensitive information are enforcing measures to protect their consumers from ID theft and fraud, but cyber criminals are finding ways to collect information—either through a data breach or by turning to social media to obtain information.

How social media can put you at risk for identity theft

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter recently suffered such hack attacks. Facebook claimed that no user data was compromised in the attack, while Twitter revealed that some 250,000 usernames, passwords, and email addresses were stolen.

According to Facebook’s management, the computers of its employees were infected with malware that came from a mobile developer’s website that was already compromised. This particular attack shows that even though companies rely on technology to protect consumers, the latter is still vulnerable to attacks. Criminals focus their attention on the companies’ employees to gain access to their databases.

Criminals can also obtain your personal information through third-party applications. Most social media sites have apps that ask for permission to access your account information before you can install them. This is one way hackers steal your details to commit fraud.

Unconsciously (or sometimes, consciously), you provide personal details you would not share otherwise on your social media accounts. Information such as your full name (including your middle name), date of birth, hometown, pet names, interests and hobbies, nature of work, and home or office address are just some of the personal details you post on your profile. Criminals can easily manipulate these details to commit fraud. Protecting this information just as you would protect your SSN and driver’s license number is one effective method of identity theft prevention.

You also put yourself at risk for identity theft when you post updates of your activities on your social media accounts. Posting that you’ll be out of town on the weekend might attract burglars. Opportunists will steal not only valuable items (jewelry, gadgets and cash) from your home, but also documents containing your personal and banking information. This could very well be the start of your identity theft problems.

How to protect your information on social media sites

Before deleting your social accounts, you should consider that you can be smart about what you post or provide on your profiles. You can still enjoy participating in social media sites without falling prey to identity thieves and fraudsters. Here are some points to consider:

  • Be in control of the information you provide online. Find out how the site will use your information (such as for targeted advertising). As much as possible, never allow the site to make your personal information available to third-party application developers or marketing agencies.
  • Never provide your SSN or driver’s license number even if the site asks for either.
  • You should also avoid giving out your credit card number when buying additional apps or features for your account. This is one way to prevent credit card fraud.
  • If you plan on becoming active in social media sites, make sure you provide as little personal information as possible. You should also consider changing a few details (like the day on your birth date) so those who can access your details won’t have your actual information to use for ID theft-related activities.
  • Only invite or accept invitations from people who you know or have met, and avoid inviting strangers or friends of friends to your network.

Guarding against identity fraud

Not all identity theft cases lead to identity fraud, but it pays to be cautious. If your social account has been hacked, all your personal details may be compromised. Any combination of the details you provide in your profile (such as your full name and home address) can be used to commit fraud. You should regularly your check credit report to see if there are any suspicious activities involving your name. You should also check your credit score as some of these activities may have an effect on it.

For the naturally wary, enlisting credit monitoring services is helpful in tracking suspicious activities. You’ll be notified daily or as often as necessary when changes in your credit occur. Some people think regular credit monitoring is only for the paranoid, but if you think about the financial and emotional costs of identity fraud, you’ll see that that this service is well worth your money.

Actively participating in social media sites puts you at a higher risk of identity theft simply because more people will “see” you and will have access to  your details. Being cautious of how much information you share (or overshare) on your accounts. Having control of how this information is used is the key to protecting yourself against identity theft and fraud.

Are you a victim of identity theft through social media? Share your story with us by posting in the comments section below.

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Featured photo credit: Team of paper doll people holding hands via Shutterstock

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