The holiday season for many can be jolly, but unfortunately, it’s not immune to fraudsters and scammers. While there are many ways for these tricksters to steal your identity or your hard-earned money, this post will tell you how to help protect yourself on social media, including what to be on the lookout for and how to be safe, so you can minimize your risks and stay jolly all season long.
There is definitely no shortage of scams this season, but here are two to particularly look out for on social media:
- Secret Sister Gift Exchange Scam—This Facebook pyramid scheme may seem harmless because all you have to do is get six friends to send you a $10 gift and they’ll do the same, but it can actually be quite harmful and it’s against the law. The scam might result in money lost on purchasing and shipping gifts, and you could possibly end up exposing your information to someone with malicious intentions. Never share your personal information with strangers online, especially when it comes to shipping addresses or payment methods.
- Gift Cards and Vouchers Scam—The way this scam works is that you might see an almost too-good-to-be-true free gift card or voucher offer and in sometimes it will even look like the offer was shared by an online friend. And in some cases, these scams might lead to online surveys where fraudsters have it set up to steal your personal information. Never provide your personal information to an unknown party or untrustworthy website.
In addition to being on the lookout for scams, there are other precautions you should take to stay safe. For one, be proactive about your privacy across all social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn…each platform works in its own unique way and carries its own inherent privacy risks as a result. There are different automatic settings for each platform, and different user agreements that outline what can be done with your content and your account, so it’s worth examining further to better understand the risks of each.
When it comes to privacy, one of the riskiest social media mistakes that users make is oversharing. It occurs when you divulge too much information online, such as posting your family holiday vacation photos without making them private, and without removing your location from the post. Oversharing can easily lead an identity thief to connect the dots of your data, and can even allow a physical predator to piece together your location and whereabouts.
Here are some common examples of oversharing:
- Location settings—If you don’t turn off the location settings on your phone before you take a picture, you could very well be providing a criminal with the GPS coordinates to that photograph’s location. In test cases, experts have even been able to pinpoint in which room of the house the photo was taken using the location settings. That joy-filled image of the kids opening their presents could be alerting someone to your location.
- Checking in—Far too many social media users share their holiday travel pictures on their profiles without waiting until they’re home. If you’ve posted an update checking in at the terminal for a Christmas cruise with the entire family, for example, it takes no effort at all to find out how long that particular cruise ship will be gone. Whether you’re headed into the city for New Year’s Eve just for the night or you’ve journeyed across the country for a month, you may have just given a criminal the timeline during which it will be safe to break into your home.
- Posting photos of event tickets—It’s fairly common to see posts on social media of “Nutcracker” tickets or maybe “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” play tickets during this time of year, but what many don’t realize is that fraudsters can actually use the barcode from these pictures to recreate tickets for resale.
- Handing off your kids’ identities—Your account may be doing the dirty work for a thief, at least where your kids’ identities are concerned. If your account name contains your maiden name, for example, and then you post a happy birthday message about your young child, a thief just uncovered their name, birthdate, and mother’s maiden name.
- What’s that behind you?—One of the most overlooked threats when posting on social media is the other objects in the photo with you. Is that your mail on the table, complete with your address? Is that your bank statement on the counter next to the platter of nachos you’re posting? Is that a driver’s license your new 16-year-old driver is holding up in the photo? With the right software, items in the background of your photo could offer up sensitive information about you or your family.
- Private doesn’t mean what you think it does—Setting the privacy restrictions on your social media accounts is a good idea, but they’re not an impenetrable fortress. Anyone can cut and paste your photos, even if they can’t click a “share” button. The bigger danger is from the rise in “familiar identity theft,” which occurs when someone you know very well—and may even be connected to on social media—steals your identity.
That’s not to say you should go off the grid entirely, but it’s a good idea to ask yourself one very important question: Do you really know and understand what you are sharing about yourself online? It’s bad enough that there are rampant scams and fraud that come through social media during the holidays, like the ones discussed above, but is the actual content you’re posting safe? If you’re not sure that your post is “social” while still being protective, it might be best to delete it before hitting share.
Posted by Eva Velasquez, CEO, Identity Theft Resource Center
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