On LockerGnome.net, Tyler Hoang asks:

I’ve got a friend who is thinking about joining his first social network, but he’s scared of identity theft. I couldn’t help him out that much because I’ve never had my identity stolen before. How do you guys keep your identity safe? What is your advice for my friend?

Identity theft can strike just about anyone at any time. Often, it’s the result of a single careless piece of information shared that falls into the wrong hands. Sometimes, this information is provided by you to a business or organization that you trust. It is also quite common that this information is passed into the wrong hands by hacking into otherwise secured systems. However identity theft is sourced, your presence on a social network does not necessarily increase your risks.

These breeches in security are a constant problem for businesses. Even banks have the occasional lapse in security as their customers’ names, passwords, social security numbers, and other vital information can become readily accessible to someone with the right tools to access them. It isn’t terribly common that your vital statistics are made available to the world, but you don’t often give your social security number to a social network.

Identity TheftPerhaps the biggest threat associated with being on a social network is through your increased visibility. Offering your full date of birth in lieu of simply the month and day can give potential identity thieves an extra point of access into your identity. Many companies use your date of birth as a form of identifying information to verify that you are who you say you are. In these cases, simply having your Facebook profile page pulled up gives them everything they need.

Protecting your identity online means more than just signing up for an identity theft alert service. While these services can help you avoid the more disastrous forms of identity theft, they do little to defend you against hacking or phishing relating to third-party services like iTunes and Google Play. Your habits are the one thing you can control that could protect you from virtually all kinds of identity theft.

Here are some basic tips you should follow when using social networks.

  • Keep your personal information private. Don’t open everything up to the public.
  • Only friend people you know personally and trust with your personal information.
  • Remove EXIF and location data from photos taken at your home or work.
  • Don’t provide any personal information that could be used against you. This means IMs as well.
  • Never click links in emails you didn’t specifically request. If there is a problem on your account, it should be able to be resolved from the site.

Instant messages are a particularly vulnerable area for many users. When you receive a message from someone you know asking for information you might freely share with your friend, your initial response may be to respond with the information requested. After all, if a friend asks for your phone number, wouldn’t you give it to them?

Unfortunately, the person on the other end of that IM might not be your friend. Their account could very well have been compromised and neither you nor they will realize it right away (if ever).

Keep tabs on your personal assets, be mindful of what you share, and don’t forget that you are the best line of defense between you and a would-be identity thief.

Image: Wikimedia