Julie Myhre, Editor of NextAdvisor.com, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
By definition, social media is all about sharing information, whether it’s photos, articles or even your thoughts. But, how safe is it for you to be sharing your personal identity and private information on social media? In 2012 more than 12.6 million people were victims of identity theft — an increase of 1 million victims from the previous year — according to the 2013 Identity Fraud Report published by the Javelin Strategy and Research, one of the top comprehensive analysts of identity fraud.
An address-based survey of 5,249 U.S. consumers was conducted in October 2012 to identify the impact of fraud and undercover areas where consumers need to be more cautious. Of the 5,249 consumers surveyed, a total of 857 have been victims of identity fraud within the past six years.
The results of the survey showed that even though the numbers of days that identity thieves misused the stolen identity decreased compared to previous years — 48 days in 2012, which is down from 55 days in 2011 and 95 days in 2010 — the total dollar amount stolen reached a three-year high at $21 billion. The all-time high was $47 billion in 2004.
The findings prove that people need to be more cautious about protecting their identity, especially on social media.
Here are seven ways to protect your identity on social media.
1. Keep your personal information private.
The previous year’s report — 2012 Identity Fraud Report — by Javelin included social media behaviors, and found that of the people with public social media profiles, 68 percent shared their birthday information, 45 percent of them included their full birth date; 63 percent shared their high school name; 18 percent shared their phone number; and 12 percent shared their pet’s name.
It is always better to omit information about yourself rather than include it on your social media. Just because there is an option to include your current city doesn't mean you have to. Instead, opt to include a generalized version of that information or no information at all. For example, San Francisco Bay Area is a general option for Burlingame, CA. It still gives some information, but makes it a little more difficult to figure out your zip code or home address.
2. Set strict privacy settings.
Go into the settings for your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and Linkedin, and edit your privacy settings. Make sure you make all of your personal information — such as your birthday, current location, workplace, etc. — private or visible to only your friends. When your privacy settings are more lenient, you're giving strangers easy access to all of your information.
3. Don't tag or post your specific location.
Tagging or posting your specific location is an exciting feature, but not everyone needs to know where you are at all times. It makes you and your home vulnerable, especially if your profile is public. It's fun to let your social media friends know that you're at Disneyland with your sister, however you're also letting everyone know that you’re more than 100 miles away from your home, which makes it available for break-ins.
4. Know your friends/connections.
It's important not to make you or your information vulnerable to people who you have never met before in real life. Steven J.J. Weisman — lawyer, author and professor at Bentley University — said that befriending people that you don’t know makes it easier for them to take the information on your social media and use it to find more information about you.
“These ‘friends,’ who don’t know you gain access from your Facebook page to personalized information that often can be used to make you a victim of identity theft,” he said,” often by providing information that can permit someone to learn or reasonably guess your email address or answer your security questions.”
Don't just add someone as a friend because they wanted to add you. There is such a thing as a "decline" button, and you should use it every now and then. If someone adds you, and you're unsure of who they are, you can always add them, then unfriend, unfollow, unconnect, etc. if you realize they're a stranger.
5. Always log out of your social media.
This is especially true when you're using a public computer at a library or hotel. The reality is that we all have some private information on our social media — even if it's only our name and a photo — and you don't want to give someone easy access to your identity.
6. Use strong passwords.
Passwords are one of the keys to protecting your identity, so make them effective. Learn how to choose a secure password.
7. Use an internet security software suite.
This software protects your identity when you're surfing the web or using social media. Weisman said that sometimes you will open a link or download a file included in messages from “friends” and, without your knowledge, the link or file contains a keystroke malware program that can steal all your personal information from your computer. “You trusted the message because it came from a ‘friend,’” he said.
A way to prevent this from happening is to get anti-virus software that prevents, detects and removes malware to keep your identity safe. Most Internet security software suites come with identity theft protection features like anti-keylogging, secure environments or encrypted password protection.
While all of these steps are helpful in preventing identity theft on social media, Ravi Bhatia of Highly Relevant in Los Angeles said the only way to truly protect your identity on social media is to not use it. “People should use social media only if they’re willing to accept the small chance that it can ruin them,” he said. “If they fear the consequences, then they should avoid them at all costs.”
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.