Facebook, Identity Theft, and Personal Safety
It seems like everyone I know is on Facebook. And, that’s a good thing. For some people, Facebook is a great place to keep in touch with friends and family. And, it’s also a terrific search platform to find and reconnect with old friends or former classmates. But, for the unwary user, Facebook can be a dangerous place. If you have a Facebook page, it is vital to know that the social media giant is a treasure trove for identity thieves and other types of criminals.
Identity theft is a worldwide problem. The thieves who commit this type of crime can do it in a few minutes with an internet connection, a computer, and a keyboard. Unfortunately, because these criminals operate in different countries throughout the world, they rarely get caught, and if they do get caught—they are almost never prosecuted.
The financial damage that an identity thief can do to you and your credit profile is simply frightening. In the United States, identity theft has reached epidemic proportions. Last year more than 15 million people in the U.S.A. had their identities used in a fraudulent transaction. It is now estimated that personal financial losses sustained by American residents due to the fraudulent use of their identities have surpassed 50 billion dollars a year. And, that figure does not include the financial losses incurred by the U.S. government or corporate America.
So; what can we do to protect ourselves from becoming a victim of identity theft? Well, the answer is simple. We must use common sense and be very careful as to the information we place on our Facebook page.
1. In order to have a Facebook page, you must provide your name. But, it’s really not necessary to give your first, middle, and last name. Your first and last name should suffice. And, if your family and friends know you by a nickname; it might be a wise decision to use that moniker instead of your legal birth name.
2. Never post your real birthday. In order to steal your identity, crooks need your date of birth. Without your real date of birth, thieves run into the proverbial brick wall when they try to establish a fake identity. Banks and credit card companies will see a red flag if someone tries to steal your identity without your true date of birth. Protect yourself, use New Year’s Day or April Fool’s Day as your Facebook birthday. And, change the year of your birth by a year or two. Don’t give a social media website the actual year of your birth. If you do, you are making it easier for someone to steal your identity.
3. It is important to be aware that in order to steal your identity, the bad guys need to know where you were born. Don’t post that information, it’s not necessary. Telling Facebook where you were born is just one more bit of information that a thief can use to eventually impersonate you on a bank loan or some other scam that they might be trying to pull. Remember, if a thief knows where you were born and your true birthday, they can request and receive an official copy of your birth certificate from the Bureau of Records in your town or county. Once they have a copy of your birth certificate; the ramifications can lead to your financial ruin.
4. Most of us have great moms. If they have departed, we have fond memories of our mothers. For security purposes, some financial institutions want to know your mother’s maiden name. That’s something that should be between you and your bank. You should have no reason to post your mom’s maiden name on Facebook. And if someone online asks you that question; you had better be careful. Why would anyone want to know your mother’s last name before she married your father? Just try to use common sense when someone inquires about your mother. And, if you feel that you must answer, do it by a phone or by a secure email. But, please do not post your mom’s maiden name online.
5. Facebook has a section that lists all the places where you have ever lived. Does that sound familiar? Credit agencies also have a list of your past addresses. They sometimes use that information to help them verify that you are the person you are claiming to be. So, by listing all the places that you have ever lived on Facebook, you are inadvertently giving personal information to the crook who is trying to steal your identity. And, it’s also important to know that by providing Facebook with all the places you have ever lived; you are helping to provide the bad people with information they can use to help them find your social security number, especially if you ever owned real-estate or have had a home mortgage in one of those places. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but getting someone’s social security number from real estate or mortgage records is often not a difficult task. You or anyone can search most county and municipal records online. Your signatures and social security numbers are sometimes listed on mortgage transactions filed with your town’s Bureau of Records or the County Recorder’s Office. Fortunately, you can usually do something about your social security number appearing on public records. Because of all the identity fraud in today’s world, you can have your social security number redacted at your local Bureau of Records or at the County Recorder’s Office. But, you usually have to go there in person to black out your number.
6. Everyone loves a vacation. Whether you fly off with a loved one to a foreign land for a few weeks or just visit with a friend for a few days, time off from your daily schedule is something most of us enjoy and look forward to. Yet sadly, for some strange reason, many Facebook users feel that they must make a grand announcement about their plans. “Hey everybody, I’m taking the whole family to Disney World. We’re leaving tomorrow and we won’t be back for two weeks!” So, what happens next? You guessed it, they return to a home that’s been burglarized. What happened to common sense? Why, would anyone tell the world that their home is going to be unoccupied? It just does not make any sense.
7. I know some of the more experienced Facebook users think they can fix their Facebook setting to make their information private. But, trust me. The criminals in today’s Cyber World are good at what they do. The good hackers can view your Facebook information anytime they want to. And, they won’t announce to your Facebook friends that they’ve hacked your page. Some hackers mess with you. They might embarrass you a little by using your name to post something foolish or inappropriate, but they certainly will not brag about it.
8. As a final point please remember; by using common sense when you provide personal information to Facebook or any other institution on the internet; your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft, or of another crime, decreases in proportion with the information you allow others to view. So, next time you’re having dinner at a nice restaurant or sunbathing on an exotic far away beach; think twice and use your common sense before you announce to the world; where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, and when you’ll be returning home.