By definition, social media is all about sharing information, including photos, articles and innermost thoughts. But sharing your personal identity and private information on social media may not be the best idea. Social media-based identity theft is on the rise, and what we share and how we handle our social accounts can determine whether or not we become victims.
We’ll highlight best practices for protecting your privacy on social media, explore the risks of identity theft, and highlight scams to watch out for.
What are the risks of identity theft?
Identity theft and fraud are multi-billion-dollar scams that impact large segments of the U.S. population. Identity theft can affect individuals and businesses in the following ways:
- Identity theft can impact finances. The most noticeable impact of identity theft scams is financial. Depending on the scam’s severity, attackers could empty bank accounts, take over investment or retirement accounts, and even potentially take control of a victim’s mortgage. ID theft cases can necessitate legal services that further compound the financial impact.
- Identity theft can damage your career. Actions by scammers who misuse your identity could appear on background checks and potentially affect employment opportunities.
- Identity theft can harm your reputation. Scammers could hurt your online reputation if they seize control of social media accounts. This is particularly damaging if you use social media for business. In worst-case scenarios, scammers could take control of a social media account and pose as the account holder while using the account to distribute malware, send phishing emails, or launch additional attacks on other targets.
- Identity theft can lead to account bans. If identity thieves misuse your social media, platforms could ban your accounts. You could lose years of work spent building up a social media following.
Remote workers have added scam concerns. Remote cybersecurity tips include using only work email accounts, enabling multifactor authentication and guarding against phishing emails.
Identity fraud scams to watch out for
Social media identity fraud can be challenging to recognize. The most dangerous scams constantly change to reflect current events and take advantage of consumer patterns. For example, COVID-19 scams proliferated amid the pandemic, and fake Ukrainian relief scams cropped up amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Always research a person or organization before offering any personal or financial information.
Additionally, stay aware of the following common identity fraud schemes:
- Impersonation identity theft schemes. A hacker can message friends of the compromised account and ask for favors. Some messages may be innocuous, asking your friends about your weekend plans or work hours to learn when your home will be vacant. Others are more overt. These messages may claim that your friend is in some form of trouble and urgently needs money. Never send money without verifying that the request is genuine.
- Identity theft quizzes. Identity theft quizzes pose as fun games to post publicly and share with friends. Many quizzes ask questions about your childhood home’s street, your first pet’s name or your favorite restaurants — all potential elements of passwords and security questions. Posting your filled-out questionnaires on social media offers potential hackers an easy opportunity to learn your passwords.
- Identity theft fake business opportunities. When looking into business opportunities, remember one golden rule: If you have to pay for anything, you’re a customer, not an employee. These scams often come in the form of pyramid schemes. The messaging party, almost always unsolicited, promises to send you a starter pack that you can sell. But first, of course, you must provide your credit card information. Do not, under any circumstances, provide credit card information unless you’re making a purchase through a secure company page.
Identity theft is a growing business
Identity theft and related scams are a growing business for criminals. Unfortunately, social media and the increased availability of personal information have made these scams more common and easier to carry out. Removing yourself from all social media is drastic and challenging. Fortunately, there are ways to use these platforms while guarding against identity theft risks.
Implement social media privacy best practices and maintain a healthy level of skepticism to decrease your chances of being an identity theft victim.
Jeremy Bender and Jordan Beier contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at business.com and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.