Identity theft remains the number one consumer fraud report category nationally, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumer fraud is made easier the more our personal information is available to potential scammers—the more they know, the more damage they can cause.
This is particularly true with social media. Social media use is a significant part of many people’s day-to-day activities, and there is a rising concern over consumer privacy and social media companies’ capacity to protect our data.
It’s no secret the more personal information you share about your life on social media, the more information about you can be stolen. Using social media will always be a trade-off between connection and protection. Finding the proper balance between the two is challenging. But there are simple things everyone can do to protect their personal information when using social media.
First, it is important to know what “personal information” means since we all publish some amount of personal information on social media—knowing what kind of personal data cybercriminals value and use helps us understand what we should and shouldn’t post.
Personal information is any data that can be reasonably linked to a particular person, computer, or device. That includes your full name, date of birth, home address, email address, Social Security number, credit or debit card number(s), and bank account number(s).
Here are some practical steps you can take to protect your personal information on social media:
Share less in the “About” Section. Just because a field is offered doesn’t mean you must fill it in. Consider leaving some profile information blank or only giving a broad, general answer. For example, you can list the industry you are in rather than your specific employer. Seemingly harmless information—your maiden name or hometown—can help hackers crack your security questions.
Only accept friend requests from people you know. Fake social media profiles are rampant online. Scammers look to get your personal information by connecting with you. If you encounter a fake profile, report the account to the social media platform.
Create strong, unique passwords. Passwords are your first line of defense against hackers. Make them as secure as possible. Longer is stronger. Passwords should have a minimum of 12 characters. Consider using mixed case letters and adding a number or symbol or two.
Use two-factor authentication (2FA). Two-factor authentication is a security measure that, in addition to your password, requires one of the following: a security code, an answer to a security question, or, if using a smartphone, voice print, fingerprint, or facial recognition. Most major social media accounts now include this feature. Use it!
Tighten your profile’s privacy settings. Most of us leave the default privacy settings on our accounts. But in just 15 minutes, you can quickly review and significantly increase the effective security for social media accounts. These settings also allow you to deliberately choose what different user groups, e.g., friends, friends-of-friends, or everyone, can see. This allows you to decide what you do and don’t want to share.
Keep a clean machine. Scammers often succeed in stealing your personal information by exploiting bugs in your computer, phone, or tablet. Protect yourself from cyberattacks by consistently updating to the most recent software available. This is simple if you choose the “automatic updates” setting, available on most devices. For additional protection, use and regularly update antivirus and anti-malware through a trusted provider.
With social media, security is in your hands. Being informed and taking action can help protect both your privacy and security.