Earlier this year, Javelin Strategy and Research published their 2012 Identity Fraud Report. This year's focus was social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. According to the Javelin survey, in 2011 11.6 million U.S. Adults, or 4.9% of the adult population, fell victim to ID fraud, a 12.6% increase year over year. Since the report has many guidelines, I diligently follow its recommendations to prevent identity theft, fraud, and other cybercrime.
Fraud victims suffered an average out of pocket cost of $354 and spent 12 hours resolving their identity fraud in 2011. As expected, identity fraud was higher amongst social media users (like LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Google+, and Twitter) when compared to non users. LinkedIn, the business networking site, had the highest fraud incidence rate, 10%, while 5.7% of Facebook users claimed they were victims of identity fraud.
Javelin's 2011 survey, which interviewed 5000 people, showed that at least 51% of consumers shared their high school name, 31% shared their complete birth date (including year), 11% shared their sibling profiles, and 9% shared their pet's name on social media. Sharing of sensitive personal information was higher amongst people with public profiles. Up to 63% shared their high school name, 45% shared their complete birth date, 63% shared their high school name, and 12% shared their pet's name on social media.
Why is this dangerous? Because banks, credit card companies, utilities and a variety of other sites use answers to these "security" questions to verify a consumer's identity.
Although social media has a part in my life, privacy is important to my husband. Through his eyes, I can see what seemingly harmless actions can put our family's identity, credit and security in jeopardy. For example, every time I get a survey question, I ask myself, "Would a credit monitoring company or bank want me to verify the answers to these questions?" "Would I pick up the phone and tell an acquaintance this information?" Here are some potentially harmful behaviors I avoid on Facebook.
Posting answers to security questions
Full date of birth (DOB), anniversary, honeymoon location, children's names and birthdays, model of first car, high school etc. are all information I decline to provide on Facebook. A surprising number of my Facebook friends post their real birthday, often accidentally, such as telling the world they are turning 30 on a certain date. Yet others plug in their DOB in surveys like "which celebrity shares your birthday?" Another classic Facebook phising application is a security question that is embedded on a sappy postcard containing some romantic quotes, photos or something else that tugs at our heart strings. It ends in a survey like "if you love your spouse, share your anniversary and where you honeymooned". Or, "Your kids don't appreciate you now, but they will miss you when they are 70 and you are dead. Write down your kids' names and date of births." I see these everyday, and many friends answer them, essentially disclosing answers to several top security questions to the app developer, and potentially thousands of people.
Uploading profile pictures and other photos
Can that photo you just uploaded to Facebook, Google+, match.com, or another online social network really give your social security number away? As I wrote earlier, a group of researchers guessed the first five digits of social security numbers with about 30% accuracy in less than four attempts. The team could predict an entire Social Security number with fewer than 1,000 attempts for close to 10% of people born after 1988. I don't upload photos showing my family's faces of Facebook. I have also disabled tagging photos in my Facebook privacy settings.
Announcing no home will be home
Despite a well publicized story of New Hampshire gang that used Facebook status updates to commit robberies in 2010, I see several types of people announcing via social media they will not be home for an extended period. Some friends love to show off their fancy vacation plans. Some simply want to catch up with friends in other cities or countries. Others post vacation photos from Brazil or mom's home-made cooking from India. I resist disclosing my vacation plans and upload photos only after I have returned.
Before Facebook introduced Places, apps like Foursquare used location based tracking. Facebook has now introduced privacy features around this service, yet I cannot imagine why people voluntarily update their location on a public, social media platform. Recently, a friend of mine who was mugged in broad daylight in midtown Manhattan checked into a luxury department store, during office hours. I find so many problems with an update like that.
Displaying evidences of wealth
I use Facebook to reconnect with my high school and college friends, many of whom are successful. One particular photo I remember was my classmate with a brand new Mercedes Benz that her husband gifted on her anniversary. I was shocked to be able to see the car's plates, her million dollar home's driveway and the serious bling she was sporting. The same woman also loves checking into her "Casa", essentially telling the world her address as well. Yes, I have shared the New Hampshire Facebook gang story with her.
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More from this contributor:Your Profile Picture Might Give Your Social Security Number Away
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