Do You Know Who Your Friends Are? Risky Social Media Habits Leave Millions Vulnerable to Identity Theft

By: Christian Lees

Amid high-profile data breaches and identity fraud claiming a new victim every two seconds, a staggering number of Americans are engaging in risky social media behaviors that are increasing their vulnerability to identity theft, according to a national survey conducted by InfoArmor, which helps companies and individuals detect and manage emerging fraud.

The survey, designed to uncover the biggest myths and risks of social media use, revealed that nearly four out of five social media users indicated that half of their connections are not true friends.

A friend used to be a close, trusted source, but in social media, this moniker extends to casual acquaintances and to friends of friends who we may know very little, but with whom so much is shared. This is one reason why social media users are twice as likely to fall victim to identity theft.

While 59 percent of respondents say they would classify fewer than half of their contacts as true friends; 41 percent will “friend” a user based on a mutual connection.

The sheer volume of intimate information – names, pictures, emails, birthdates, work histories, family details – we share with people we don’t know is contradictory, considering that our single most common fear of social media is falling victim to identity theft. The study revealed that nearly 40 percent of respondents post three times per week and 20 percent post daily. Those under the age of 30 typically divulge the most information — including tagging “friends” in posts without their consent, sharing their work history and other highly personal information, posting photos while on a vacation, and even giving out their email, home address and more.

Privacy settings are providing a false sense of security. Respondents indicated a high degree of familiarity with privacy settings, but more than 40 percent of users rarely or never check their privacy settings. This increases to half among males. And, nearly half of users never clean out their followers or friends lists.

Social sites are constantly evolving their security policies and settings, so the onus is on the user to stay vigilant about security settings and who is in their social circles. With the copious amount of data social users sharing about their personal lives living online in perpetuity, the true impact of not utilizing privacy settings is unknown.

Although obtaining identity protection services is the strongest form of defense, here are some of the most important activities a user can independently undertake to protect their identity online:

  1. Live online like a biography, not a diary. Post only benign information.
  2. Check privacy settings frequently, especially after updates are released by social networks. The onus is on the consumer to utilize available tools to protect themselves
  3. Understand the short- and long-term risks of posting personal information. What ends up online can never truly be erased.
  4. Lead through example and teach children and teens not to overshare and take ownership of their personal information online.

With nearly 20 years in the information security industry, Christian Lees is chief technology officer and chief information security officer at InfoArmor. Click here to connect with Christian on LinkedIn.


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