Identity Theft in the Age of Social Media: How to Protect Yourself On and Offline

More than 75% of American adults actively participate in social media. While social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great for reconnecting with old friends and staying in touch with family, they also leave us more vulnerable to cyber fraud and identity theft than ever before.

The unregulated nature of social media offers cybercriminals a virtual playground for illegal activity. Online, anyone can exploit interpersonal networks and gain access to a gold mine of previously inaccessible personal data.

For instance, it’s not hard for hackers to access your bank account if you use a mobile banking app. Furthermore, cybercriminals can guess your passwords simply by viewing the information you post online, such as kids’ names, pets’ names, or details about your hometown or former schools. Social media has led to the rise of a culture of oversharing, encouraging users to broadcast personal details to the entire world wide web, which in turn has given cybercriminals the tools they need to steal a person’s identity.

In 2014, over 17 million Americans experienced some type of identity theft, marking a staggering 175% increase over the past decade. Below are several tips to protect your identity online.

  • Create strong, multi-character, unpredictable passwords — and change them often.
  • Be cautious about what you post online. Never disclose highly sensitive information like your Social Security number, address, or phone number.
  • Check your privacy settings often, since they are subject to change.
  • Do not accept connection requests from people you do not know.
  • Regularly Google your name to look for forged accounts.

Though social media provides ideal opportunities for identity theft, roughly 90% of incidents stem from information gained from print sources rather than those found online. That means that most criminals are getting personal information from offline documents such as bank statements, pay stubs, tax records, medical bills, and more.

Document shredding services are available to help you protect your personal information offline. Exports recommend keeping credit card statements for 45 days, pay stubs for one year, and tax records for seven years before disposing of them through a document shredding service.