With the vast majority of people today browsing the Internet, it is easy to see why so many people are connecting through social media. Sure, it’s common to log on and update a status, but when does posting information become dangerous? For example, if someone posts that they are on vacation this allows any and all readers to infer that this user has left his house unattended. Therefore, can allow for a break-in regardless if someone is in the home or not. Consequently, this simple update can be dangerous.
In the example above, all it took for negative consequences to occur was a status update of location. What do you think can happen when your photos, birthday, location, etc. are shared with the wrong crowd? These simple updates can cause serious consequences and lead to identity theft. Most people define identity theft as the stealing of credit card information or social security numbers, etc. Identity theft, however, can occur in a number of ways. In this case social media aids in stealing online identities. Think of the MTV show Catfish for instance. This show is about people who find out they are virtually dating a stranger, someone who identifies with a picture that is not his own. Thinking more critically, what happens to the person whose photo is used? Does he know someone is using his pictures and claiming his identity or is he ignorant to the fact that his picture and info is being used without consent?
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. all make it very easy for someone to save your information, your pictures, etc and share it onto his or her own page without being discovered. A simple search of a random name can bring up hundreds of results of people you do not know. Is this even a big deal? After interviewing a student-athlete at a division I university, I found that she had her pictures taken from her profile and used in a Twitter account with her name without her knowledge. This “copycat” was posting inappropriate sexual language and offering inappropriate pictures in exchange for shout-outs or even money. Naturally, this was brought to the university’s attention and this student-athlete was brought into questioning about something she had no knowledge of (Anonymous). Now, imagine someone’s career being affected by people who troll accounts like these, such as this student-athlete’s life was affected.
Kent Lewis of Entrepreneur’s Magazine agrees that social media fuels the fire and strongly suggests that people watch what they post to prevent any mishaps. He states, “Social media sites generate revenue with targeted advertising, based on personal information. As such, they encourage registered users to provide as much information as possible. With limited government oversight, industry standards or incentives to educate users on security, privacy and identity protection, users are exposed to identity theft and fraud. Additionally, these platforms have a ton of confidential user information, and are likely vulnerable to outside (or inside) attack (Lewis)” Isn’t the purpose of social media to keep up to date with your friends, family, coworkers, etc.? When posting a picture or adding your birthday to an account, do you ever think, “could this information be stolen and affect me negatively?” The answer is probably no. Millions of people all over the world every day share simple bits about their lives and could be having it stolen right under their nose.
How can you avoid this? Well, you can avoid social media altogether or follow the practices that Lewis and the Federal Trade Commission suggest. AllClearID identity theft alert network claims the FTC estimates almost 9 million reported identity thefts a year. With that being said, how do you know you are safe? The FTC suggests not posting any personal info such as Social Security Number, Address, Telephone, Credit Card numbers, etc. even if any apps within a social media network request this information. In addition, do not dispose of documents containing this information without shredding it; keep SSN cards, passports, and other important documents in a safe place at home; and never leave outgoing mail in your mailbox as people can easily steal information this way (AllClearID).
Moving forward, what will you do with this information? Will you think next time before you post or make an update? Social media is near impossible to give up, and you should not have to. While some audiences can be trusted with your personal information and pictures, it is wise to always remember that anything you post on the Internet has the potential of being viewed by users that you cannot trust. With this new knowledge, I hope you can explore the social media world safer and wiser.
AllClearID. “Identity Theft Protection Resources.” Identity Theft Statistics. All Clear ID Alert Network, n.d. Web. 18 July 2015.
Anonymous. “Identity Ruins.” Personal interview. 10 July 2015.
Lewis, Kent. “How Social Media Networks Facilitate Identity Theft and Fraud.” How Social Media Networks Facilitate Identity Theft and Fraud. Entrepeneur’s Organization, n.d. Web. 18 July 2015.