Technological advancement is a combination of benefits and drawbacks. Approximately 2 billion internet users today also use social networks—a figure that continues to soar. This surge of global connectivity supplies a prime playing field for those with ill intent. Every year, millions worldwide are ravaged by identity theft, fraud, and burglaries facilitated by social media. How are criminals abusing social media? And how can we protect ourselves?
What criminals can access online often hinges on what we choose to reveal. Common sense advises us against broadcasting our social security number, driver’s license, or home address. It’s safe to say that’s a no-brainer, right? But shrewd players can hack your ID without these central pieces of personally identifying information (PII). All they may need is a combination of two or more of the following: full name, date of birth, hometown, school locations and graduation dates, student ID number, phone number, primary email address, or relationship status.
How can criminals use that information? For one, they can hack your bank account and drain your funds. A soldier overseas learned this from experience—not just once, but repeatedly. To discover how this was possible, “a security expert was able to replicate access [to his bank account] with nothing more than his name, e-mail and Facebook profile.” Very sobering indeed.
Cyber criminals can also use PII to create a fraudulent profile on social media to defame your character. In recent years, a Canadian reporter was targeted by a false profile that featured “misleading posts, poorly considered group memberships, and intellectually inconsistent political positions.” Sad to say, an experience like this could damage your reputation and threaten hard-earned credibility. It's clear that the stakes are high.
Twitter, Facebook, and FourSquare can be powerful tools in the hands of burglars. Over 75% believe that other like-minded crooks are using social media to find targets. They can pinpoint your home or work address via location data—called EXIF metadata—embedded in the images you post. Many camera-equipped phones automatically include your GPS coordinates in the data of each picture you take. Even if you disable that setting, geotagging photos can still put you in danger. The social media network you’re using may even do so by default.
Announcing when and where you’re going on vacation or are simply away from home for a few hours alerts criminals that your property is unoccupied and therefore open season. On average, it takes less than 10 minutes for a home to be looted. But if burglars know that they have a larger window of opportunity, they are more likely to hang around longer and steal items of higher value.
Plugging your legal name or social media usernames into a search engine from time to time is a great way to be safety-conscious online. You may be shocked at just how much of your personal information is on display for the world to see, and you may be prompted to make some adjustments to your profiles.
The connection between overshare of personal information on social media and crimes such as identity theft, fraud, and burglary is real. Identifying such dangers and learning how to thwart them are key to building a solid defense. And as cyber criminals scale up efforts, it takes even more dedication and expertise to ensure your safety and security. Thankfully, the knowledge is here, right within reach.
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