Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great for staying in touch with family and friends, but remember: cyber-scammers and identity thieves are on those platforms too. Here are some guidelines on steering clear of them.
1. Lock Down Privacy Settings
Check the settings in your social accounts to make sure your phone number and email addresses are hidden from public view. Here are a few platform-specific recommendations:
- Consider adjusting Facebook privacy settings to make your posts visible only to friends or friends of friends, rather than making them public.
- Uncheck the "Discoverability" boxes in Twitter's safety and security controls to prevent searches using your email address and phone number. If you're only using Twitter for private communications (as opposed to business networking), consider checking the "Protect your tweets" box, which limits your posts' visibility to your followers.
- On Instagram, if you plan to share personal images (and aren't promoting a business) consider setting your account to private.
2. Use Text Messaging to Prevent Unauthorized Logins
There was a time when it was considered prudent to exclude your phone number from your social network profiles, but that's a decision worth revisiting.
Consider supplying your smartphone number to each platform, and requiring it to use text messaging to confirm your identity when you log in on a new device.
This process, known as two factor authentication or login verification, can keep your accounts secure even if your username and password are stolen.
- Set up two-factor authentication on Facebook. Facebook also allows you to adjust various security settings, such as getting alerts for unrecognized logins (when someone logs in from a new device or web browser for the first time).
- Enable login verification on Twitter.
- Activate two factor authentication on Instagram
3. Be Discreet About Your Whereabouts
Take care to avoid sharing your street address, which can help thieves target your home. Also, be careful about broadcasting when you're traveling for extended periods when your vacant home could become a target.
Bear in mind that you can disclose this information inadvertently, without typing a thing, if you allow your posts or images to be tagged with your location. To prevent that, you can disable location tagging:
In Twitter, uncheck the "Tweet with location" box on the "Privacy and safety" settings page.
For the Facebook and Instagram mobile apps, you must go to your phone's settings, find location services, and disable them for the Facebook and Instagram apps.
(The process may differ somewhat from one manufacturer's phone to the next; if you have trouble finding the settings for your phone, consult your phone's user guide or online help pages.)
4. Avoid (and Report) Duplicate Friend Requests
If you receive a request to connect with someone you know, but who you thought was already a friend or follower, double-check your friends-list before accepting the invitation. If the sender is already on your list, chances are good their account has been hacked.
Scammers use bogus accounts cloned from real users to collect "friends," and rely on these "mutual friends" to extend their fake networks. The fake account may use photos from your friend's real account to trick you as well.
- Facebook has a provision for reporting these impostors that automatically notifies the friend who's being impersonated as part of the process.
- On Twitter and Instagram, impersonated persons have to report phony accounts themselves, so message your followers to let them know they're being misrepresented.
5. Don't Use Social Credentials to Sign Into Third-Party Sites
Many third-party websites give you the option of registering using Facebook, Google or Twitter credentials instead of setting up new usernames and passwords.
These shortcuts are tempting, especially when you're eager to place an order or join a discussion, but think twice. By using this option, you may be giving the new site more information than you need to.
Worse, if someone hijacks your social login information, they can gain access to these third-party accounts as well.
- If you've enabled access to third party sites in Facebook, you can review the sites that are logged in automatically by clicking "Apps" on the left side of the Settings page.
- You can shut off integration apps individually, or you can disable all integration with third-party sites and applications by changing a single setting.
6. Avoid Quizzes and Games That Require Access to Profile Information
"Fun" quizzes that promise to spot your perfect mate, assemble a bank-heist team, or test your hometown loyalty are often just information-siphoning schemes.
While assuring you they won't post to your feed without permission, they woo you into surrendering your profile info and friends. They can use this info to build lists for spammers.
7. Handle Passwords With Care
Don't store passwords in your web browser because if your phone or laptop is stolen, saved passwords can provide access to social accounts, shopping sites, and your email—all of which likely contain loads of information an identity thief could use. Another alternative is to password protect your computer.
- Switch up your social media passwords immediately if there's a chance you're the victim of a data breach or if you determine your personal information is on the dark web. Use different passwords for each account site, and make sure they're strong.
- Ditch the sticky notes and index cards and upgrade to a better password management system. The helpful (and free) password manager, Dashlane works on Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. It encrypts and stores all your passwords (except its own), and lets you enter and submit them with a click.
8. Consider Identity Theft Protection
If you're concerned that your personal data may have been compromised, consider using an identity-theft protection product to alert you to instances of abuse.
9. If You Have Kids, Pay Attention to Their Accounts as Well
If, and when your kids use social media, you'll want to make sure you're protecting them while on social networks. Criminals can prey on them, and if their privacy and security settings aren't locked down, it can put their safety and personal information at risk. Read more here about protecting your child on social media.
As in any group setting, you'll find folks of every stripe on social media, from friends to trolls to criminals. Good relationships are what keep us coming back, but it's a mistake to ignore or underestimate the wrongdoers. By staying alert and adopting a few smart practices, you can socialize safely and keep your personal information private.