Would you give your cell phone number or home address to a group of strangers? How about your birthdate? Your spouse or partner's name?
You might smugly say, "no way!" But your actions online definitively say, "You got it!"
Why do we share this type of info in public forums online, where anyone can see and use it?
According to a recent survey, those with a public social media profile share the following:
- birthdate (68 percent)
- high school name (63 percent)
- phone number (18 percent)
- pet's name (12 percent)
The survey found that users of LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter experienced higher rates of identity fraud than the average consumer in 2011. In fact, LinkedIn and Google+ users experienced the highest incidence of identity fraud compared to Facebook and Twitter users.
This fact might appear counterintuitive, but it seems professionals tend to trust professional social sites more. (And they really shouldn't.)
Another survey revealed that Baby Boomers are at high risk for identity fraud because they are less-informed than younger Internet users. In practice, this group is less aware of steps to take to protect themselves and less aware of common scams than Gen X'ers or Millennials.
True story from CNN: last fall, an identity thief hacked into Mat Honan's Apple account, and erased all of his data, including all pictures. They took over his email and Twitter accounts. The thief managed to gather enough personal information online, including Mat's home address and email address. And with that data, the thief convinced Amazon tech support and Apple customer support to gain even more confidential information about Mat.
Sadly, even children as young as kindergarten are targeted by identity thieves now.
Be careful about the information you post. Your life doesn't need to be an open book. The truth be told, there are those who make a good living gathering and using personal information on the Web. They're called identity thieves and hackers, but even private detectives, bounty hunters, and skiptracers get in on the action.
What's a skiptracer? I work for Net Nanny and one of our fans, Carolynn Y, is a skiptracer. Carolynn's job is to find people, for any number of purposes or organizations. A skiptracer is a form of private investigator.
Carolyn told me: "I find people for a living; I find most people through their children who post their cell phone numbers on their open access Facebook pages. In fact, when I am trying to find someone, I go to Facebook and look for a person's "young" relatives. They almost always have their privacy settings loose and they either post their number on their wall (especially when they get new ones) OR they post their numbers on their best friend's posts. I find them there too."
What should you do?
First, go through your own LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, and other social media accounts to review the information you've openly shared in your personal profile.
Then, go to previous posts on your social media accounts to see what information about your life you can piece together from what you've posted online.
Can you find...?
- Your birthday
- Home address
- Home phone
- Your spouse or partner's name
- Your children's names
- Your full name
- Your high school name
- Year graduated
- Your pet's name
Now think about what security questions you've set up for various online accounts. Could someone take the information they've found online and use it to get into those accounts?
This might sound paranoid, but there is really no need to document every single event in your personal life online. Instead of posting everything publicly, take advantage of selectively sharing information through more private means. Family members or close friends can learn every detail of your life through private messages.
Don't give out information that you don't have to. For example, if on Facebook you tell that funny story about your daughter's birthday party yesterday, maybe you shouldn't mention that she turned six (revealing her exact birthdate).
If someone you trust asks for information such as your phone number, birthdate, or email address, give it to them privately, not on a public wall. And finally, tell your family and friends to do the same.
Stop and think before you post. You might pay for it, literally.