Being active on social media is a great way to reconnect with old friends and find new ones, but it offers a dangerous window of opportunity for identity thieves and debt collectors.
Many social media sites make money by selling targeted advertising. They encourage users to provide as much personal information as possible so they can charge more for better targeting. The problem is that your personal information is now out there for anyone to see.
What kind of information should you protect?
• Your full name, including your middle name
• Date of birth (often required for setting up a social media account)
• Hometown, city of birth
• Relationship status
• School locations and graduation dates
• Pets names (which are often used for passwords and password hints)
• Organization affiliations
Scary fact: It’s been shown that a hacker can access your financial information with little more than your full name, email address, and Facebook profile!
Leaking any of this personal information is perfect bait for phishing. Identity thieves pose as legitimate companies using the bits of your personal information they already know in order to extract additional personal information from you. If you receive unsolicited emails or phone calls from a company you do business with, do not respond or provide any information. Instead, initiate contact with the company’s customer service department yourself to see if they were truly trying to contact you.
The concern goes beyond identity theft. Online savvy debt collectors can find information about your employment, finances, and friends by searching for you on social media sites. Some unruly collection companies have even been known to set up false profiles in order to embarrass or harass you on social media hoping to pressure you into making payments.
While contacting consumers through social media is not part of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you can send a collections company a letter requesting they not attempt to contact you through social media. Just be sure to send it certified mail with a return receipt so you have proof that it was delivered.
Here are some additional tips to keep your personal information safe on social media:
• Familiarize yourself with and proactively use the privacy and location settings on your social media sites and mobile devices. Many categories automatically default to “public” unless you purposefully make them “private”.
• Never give out your social security number or driver’s license number.
• Don’t post photos or status updates while you’re on vacation. Wait until you get home to share your pictures with your friends. An empty house is a tempting invitation to a burglar who does online recon.
• Have a unique username and password for each social media site and make sure your passwords are strong and long, containing random letters, numbers, and symbols.
• Never give out your username and password to a third party.
• It’s ok to lie a little. Adjust your birth year up or down by a year or two and make up answers to the security questions. Just be sure you remember what you write.
• Google yourself every once in a while to see what information is out there. If anything looks suspicious or inaccurate, follow the threads and try to figure out where it’s coming from.
• Check your credit regularly to keep tabs on your financial identity. If you use annualcereditreport.com, its free and easy. Get one report each 4 months to keep tabs on it year round.
• Only add friends and people you know into your social networks.
• Pay extra attention to your children’s social media profiles. They’ve grown up in a very open technological environment. They just simply don’t understand the true consequences of all that sharing.
• Manage your friends list and monitor what they post about you. If they reveal too much, talk to them about it. If it continues, remove them from your friends list and block them if necessary.
Information for this article came from these sources:
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This information is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not as legal advice. If you have concerns about your credit report, harassment, identity theft, illegal collections activity, garnishments, or property liens, you should consult a attorney who specializes in consumer rights and defense.