Social media is a breeding ground for ID thefts

by Darinia Khongwir    Aug 07, 2013

ID Theft

Social networking sites, while are a great place to connect with friends and other business interests, it is also a breeding ground for identity thefts. Studies have shown that identity thefts affect 12 million people a year around the world. It costs the US government $18 billion in 2012. It is indeed a gross violation of any person’s constitutional rights. Most times, victims do not recover the loss and the emotional grievance that accompanies it is usually beyond repair.

The causes for online theft and fraud are primarily due to lack of consumer knowledge regarding protecting their identity online; comfort with they use social networking sites and the implicit trust they place on the social platform providers.

Identity theft occurs when an imposter gains access to personally identifying information (PII) and uses it for personal gain and exploitation.

How identity theft may occur in social networking sites

The Identity Theft Resource Centre (ITRC) on its blog site writes that users divulge very a lot of personal information in order to use and fully benefit from social networking sites. They are at a high risk of identity theft. ITRC lists out ways you might put yourself at risk of identity theft:

·         Using low privacy or no privacy settings

·         Accepting invitations to connect from unfamiliar persons or contacts

·         Downloading free applications for use on your profile

·         Giving your password or other account details to people you know

·         Participating in quizzes which may require you to divulge a lot of personal information

·         Clicking on links that lead you to other websites, even if the link was sent to you by a friend or posted on your friend’s profile

·         Falling for email scams (phishing) that ask you to update your social networking profiles

·         Using no or out-of-date security software to prevent malicious software from being loaded onto your computer and stealing personal information

How to protect yourself

Use the least amount of information necessary to register for and use the site. Although this is not possible with all social networking sites, it is best to use a nickname or handle.

Create a strong password and change it often. Use a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and characters that are not connected to your personal information (such as birthdates, addresses, last names, etc.).

Use the highest level privacy settings that the site allows. Do not accept default settings.

Be wise about what you post. Do not announce when you will be leaving town. Other things you should never post publicly: your address, phone number, driver’s license number, social security number (SSN) or student ID number. Only connect to people you already know and trust. Don’t put too much out there – even those you know could use your information in a way you didn’t intend.

Read privacy and security policies closely – know what you’re getting into. Some major social networking sites actually say they will use or sell information about you in order to display advertising or other information they believe might be useful to you.

Verify emails and links in emails you supposedly get from your social networking site. These are often designed to gain access to your user name, password, and ultimately your personal information.

Install a firewall, reputable anti-spam and anti-virus software to protect your information– and keep it updated!

Be certain of both the source and content of each file you download.  Don’t download an executable program just to “check it out.” If it’s malicious software, the first time you run it, you’re system is already infected. In other words, you need to be sure that you trust not only the person or file server that gave you the file, but also the contents of the file itself.

Beware of hidden file extensions. Windows by default hides the last name extension of a file, so that an innocuous-looking picture file, such as “susie.jpg,” might really be “susie.jpg.exe,” an executable Trojan or other malicious software. To avoid being tricked, unhide those pesky extensions, so you can see them.


Use common sense. When in doubt, don’t open it, download it, add it, or give information you may have doubts about sharing.