The best way to protect yourself on social media involves the same basic steps as any other method of keeping your data safe. Don’t share with strangers, know who you’re communicating with and verify their identities, be aware that scams exist, and remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it is. (See also: Here’s Why Fake News Is a Threat to Your Identity)
In addition, you should take some time to understand just how the social media sites and apps you use function, and how what you put online is shared. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the biggest risks for identity theft on social media include:
- Using low privacy or no privacy settings
- Accepting invitations to connect from unfamiliar persons or contacts
- Downloading free applications for use on your profile
- Giving your password or other account details to people you know
- Participating in quizzes which may require you to divulge a lot of personal information
- Clicking on links that lead you to other websites, even if the link was sent to you by a friend or posted on your friend’s profile
- Falling for email scams (phishing) that ask you to update your social networking profiles
- Using no or out-of-date security software to prevent malicious software from being loaded onto your computer and stealing personal information
Protecting yourself from identity theft on social media
To be even safer, consider the following recommendations:
When registering, give up as little information as possible. Create a user name or handle, if you can, to avoid using your real name. Check the site’s privacy rules and security policies before you join, and create a strong password that aren’t easily related to your personal information, such as your dog’s name. Once you’ve joined a site, only connect with people you know and trust, and remember that thieves may impersonate friends and family members to get your data.
When posting, watch what you share. Never publicly list your address, phone number, driver’s license number, social security number (SSN) or student ID number. And while posting your vacation plans can invite burglars, it can also signal identity thieves that your mail could be uncollected for a few days, giving them a chance to steal bank statements and other information. Posting about your birthday celebration also gives away another vital piece of personal information.
Follow basic rules of computer security. Install a firewall and antivirus software and keep those up to date. Be wary of links and downloads. Verify any emails or requests for personal information—such as from your bank—not by clicking on links but by going directly to your online bank account. Be aware that some file extensions that look harmless—such as .pdf for a document or .jpg for a picture—might included hidden extensions that will install malicious software. Warns the FTC: “An innocuous-looking picture file, such as “susie.jpg,” might really be “susie.jpg.exe,” an executable Trojan or other malicious software.”
And, if you do accidentally reveal personal information, change your passwords and monitor your credit and financial accounts.