How to protect your finances from identity theft on social media

Life Lessons

How to protect your finances from identity theft on social media

You’ve probably used a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to tell friends you’re on vacation, eating at your favorite restaurant or celebrating a birthday. Problem is, what we enjoy so much about social media — sharing personal information about ourselves and our families — is precisely what can make it dangerous.

Cyber criminals can use ordinary details you share about your life to hurt your personal finances. It’s critical to know how to stay connected with friends and family on social platforms as safely as possible.

Use these five tips to protect your personal information while still having fun and enjoying the benefits of your social media connections.

1. Clean up your social profiles.
Social sites give you the option to enter a lot of personal information in your profiles. But just because they ask for certain data doesn’t mean you should give it.

Sharing personal information comes with risks. You can easily give away enough details to compromise your privacy and become vulnerable to an identity thief. A mediocre hacker can scrape data from your account — your name, email address, birth date, phone number, friends’ profiles and current location — in a few minutes.

Each social media site has a privacy policy, but you must be proactive about how your account is set up and what information you share. Consider submitting less than what’s requested or even leaving some fields blank. For instance, instead of listing the city where you live, you might just list your state.

Review each part of your profile and edit the privacy options to make sure none of your data is public. Some information you may want to make visible only to you, or to just you and your friends.

2. Customize your audience.
You have the option to customize who sees each of your social media posts. You can share with “friends” only or even with custom audiences you create, such as coworkers or family. Sharing posts with the public is the worst option because a cybercriminal could easily get potentially harmful data about you.

If you don’t want the privacy of your posts to be set on a case-by-case basis, update your settings to make them universal for your account. For sensitive data or photos you wouldn’t want indexed on the Internet, play it safe and don’t post them.

3. Know your connections.
One of the ways cyber criminals get your data on social medial is by targeting you through requests or messages. Scammers create fake Facebook accounts just to connect with potential victims.

Once you’re a “friend,” they can spam your timeline, tag you in posts and send malicious messages. Never accept a request from anyone you don’t really know or click on links, even when they come from friends.

The idea is to make it as difficult as possible for scammers to reach you in the first place. And if an existing contact seems dubious, don’t hesitate to delete the connection or block it from your account altogether.

4. Don’t overshare.
Once you review and tighten up the security settings on your social media accounts, be aware you still shouldn’t share too much personal information. It might seem like the fun part about social media, but oversharing can give cyber thieves data to use against you.

In addition to obvious sensitive data, such as your Social Security number, driver’s license, number and financial account numbers, also keep the following off social media:

  • Your birthday
  • Your current location
  • Going on vacation
  • Buying a home
  • Changing your address
  • Having a baby
  • Your kids’ names
  • Your pets’ names
  • Your high school

While none of these bits of information seem too revealing by themselves, when paired with other data, criminals can use innocent facts to hack into your bank accounts, steal your identity or your child’s, or rob your home. If you shared too much personal information in the past, delete those posts.

5. Don’t let “friends” compromise you.
Even if you do a great job keeping personal information off social media, a friend could unknowingly put you at risk — for example, tagging you in a photo that shows you’re away from home on vacation together.

While it might be fun to share vacation pictures, remember a thief who has your address and knows you’re out of town could easily raid your home or apartment. Wait until you’re back home to share those photos.

Adjust your social account settings so you must approve tags on photos and posts before they’re published. That’s the easiest way to make sure no one can attach your name to content or images you don’t approve.

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