Social media may have been the best thing that ever happened to the consumer fraud business.
Forget fishing for bank statements in trash cans and waiting for the occasional party-goer to leave his wallet in the backseat of a cab.
All you need is a Facebook profile.
" Social networks, and especially popular ones like Facebook, are a prime target for scammers and identity thieves, because of the large number of subscribers," said Alex Balan, security expert for antivirus software BullGuard.
"[There's a] wealth of user data, credentials and other personal details that they can leverage."
Identity theft accounted for nearly 20 percent of the more than 2 million complaints the Federal Trade Commission fielded in 2012.
And it's not just your e-mail and home address than can set you up for fraud. Here are a few breadcrumbs you might be leaving on your social media profiles without knowing:
Photos of your house. This can sometimes be just as dangerous as publicizing your home address on your profile. Criminals aren't all strangers, after all, and if someone recognizes your neighborhood, chances are it won't be hard to match the photo of your front door to the real thing.
Where you're vacationing. There's nothing more gratifying than posting a photo from your Jamaican cruise and knowing there are 300 Instagram friends back home seething with jealousy. Problem is you're also waving a flag at crooks that says "Rob me. Nobody's home!" This also applies to photos that have geo-location data tacked on, which Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all offer. Adjust your settings to turn this function off if you don't want every social media stalker out there to know where you like hanging out.
Photos of your kids. For Balan, one to two photos of your little ones is plenty. " Avoid mentioning your children’s names, kindergarten or school they go to as well," he said.
Your e-mail address. In a particularly invasive scam, phishers will use e-mail addresses gleaned from social media profiles and send virus-laden links to other people. " This is called spearphishing, a highly targeted type of attack," Balan said. "Once you click on it, malware may take over your computer and steal data from it."
Is there anything that's OK to post?
None of this should scare you into deleting your social networks altogether. The key is selecting exactly which pieces of your personal puzzle to reveal online and which to leave private. For example, there's nothing wrong with sharing your marital status or birth date, Balan said, just as long as you haven't also uploaded a photo of your house or include your home address as well.
Your best defense: Monitoring your privacy settings. Facebook now allows users to select which users can view their information. Be sure it's set to "Friends only" at the very least. You can also manually change the privacy of individual posts on your profile, from "Public", "Friends", "Friends of Friends," and "Only Me."
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