Social media networks are a great way to connect with friends and family online, but they’re also a breeding ground for scams and criminal activity. And while you may picture hackers trying to break into your account, thieves can just as easily use the information you volunteer to share publicly.
It pays to be careful about what you post on your social media accounts. Here are four ways the information you share on social media can be used by criminals.
1. To Identify When You’re Away from Home
It’s natural to want to share photos and stories from your travel destinations. But check-ins at the airport and photos of the beach let thieves know you aren’t home. If they know where you live, they can take the opportunity to try to ransack your belongings.
Posting about your vacation can do a lot more damage than inspiring envy from your friends. You should try to avoid sharing information about your trip until you return.
2. To Gain Information for Identity Theft
Thieves can use a lot of the information that your social networks make public – such as your name, birthday, and hometown – to attempt to commit identity theft. Companies frequently use personal information for security questions, so knowing your birthday or your mother’s maiden name can make it easier to access your accounts.
Personal information can also be used to open fraudulent accounts. Typically, a thief would need to know your Social Security Number to open a credit card or take out a loan in your name. But if they already have access to your SSN, having personal identifying information such as your address and birthday can make it easier to commit fraud.
When social networks ask for you to share personal information, it’s a good idea to decline or disguise it to thwart potential thieves.
3. To Run Scams on Your Friends or Family
Scammers can use your profile pictures to open up a fraudulent account in your name and attempt to connect with your friends and family. They may try to trick your social media connections into sending money, clicking links to malicious websites, or providing personal information.
Be on the lookout for social media accounts that use your profile picture or personal information to impersonate you. On the flipside, you may want to check with friends and family before you accept a new friend request and verify that it’s legitimate.
4. To Run Scams on You
If you’re constantly posting information about your hobbies, whereabouts, and activities, thieves can use that information to scam you. For example, a thief who knows you went to your favorite Italian restaurant last week may try to call you and impersonate your credit card company, using knowledge of your recent charge as “proof” of their identity.
While social media is a reality of the modern age, you don’t have to share everything you do publicly. Be careful about the information you share online, and consider making your social networks private and viewable only to friends and family.