If a stranger approached you on the street, what would you tell them about yourself? Would you rattle off your full name, date of birth, and phone number? Hand them your phone and let them scroll through all your photos? Give them your home address and then tell them when you won’t be home?
Unfortunately, while some of us might hesitate and see the danger in sharing this information with a stranger on the street, many of us are more than willing to share this type of information online, specifically on social media. We update our profiles, post messages, upload photos, and check in to businesses and travel destinations regularly to let people know where we are and what we’re up to.
While sharing with friends we know and trust can be fun and help us easily keep in touch with loved ones around the world, if it’s done carelessly, it can allow our information to get into the hands of fraudsters or scammers. This makes familiarizing yourself with security settings on social media sites and maintaining a degree of privacy is important for not only protecting your physical safety, but your identity and finances as well.
One of the first steps you can take to protect yourself is to pay close attention to your privacy settings on any and all social media sites you use. Leaving your profile set to “public” allows anyone who looks for it access to the information you share on the site. Look at the options to make your profile more private and decide which are best for you.
Next, review your list of “friends” on these sites and remove anyone that you don’t know or aren’t comfortable sharing your information with. Increasing your privacy settings isn’t going to help keep your information secure if you remain connected to, or accept requests from, people you don’t know.
Now, look at what information you’re sharing on your social media accounts and compare that to the information you might be asked for by a financial institution or other company to access your account, reset a password, or even create a new account. Unfortunately, the information may be scarily similar. For instance, security questions often ask names of relatives, pets, streets you’ve lived on, etc. And when calling in to discuss or create an account, you’re often asked to provide or verify your full name, date of birth, address, and phone number.
If you’re giving this information out freely on social media, it can easily get into the wrong hands. If your information is compromised, someone can use that information to access existing accounts – credit cards, checking and savings accounts, cell phone accounts – and make unauthorized charges or changes. Or the information could be used to create new accounts in your name without your consent or knowledge, which can be overwhelming and complicated to fix.
Even if you’ve checked your privacy settings and are comfortable with them, remember that once you put something on the Internet, it never truly disappears. And unfortunately, no matter how much you limit the audience of a post, you can’t take away someone’s ability to screenshot or copy information down and share it with others, so be extra cautious about what you share, even with your friends. As exciting as it may be to get your first college ID or a driver’s license updated with your new name or address after a wedding or big move, think about the information you’re putting out there. Could someone use the information to pretend to be you?
In the end, social media can be a great tool for keeping in touch, as long as you take some time to make sure you’re not doing so at a cost to your physical safety, identity or financial well-being. Taking just a few minutes today to clean up your account’s privacy settings and what type of information you’re sharing can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.