We all know that social media can be an easy and entertaining way to keep in touch with friends and family. But in order to protect your identity and finances, it must be used cautiously.
The information you post on social media to connect with people in your network is often the same type of information a criminal is looking for in order to defraud you.
That includes details like your birth date, relationship status, interests and hobbies, school locations and graduation dates, along with the names of your family members and pets.
“Your social media profiles often include identifying information such as the city where you were born, the high school you went to, and the names of your family members, including your mother's maiden name," said Karl Mattson, chief information security officer at City National Bank. “A lot of financial sites use just this type of information to verify your identity. So a fraudster trying to break into your financial accounts could find ways to access them via what you've posted on social media."
Online criminals seek out personal information to use in a variety of ways, from trying to hack your financial accounts to burglarizing your personal property, selling your information on the dark web or developing a fraudulent relationship with you so they can ask for money.
Even if you don't use social media, it's likely that you have family members who do — and whose online activity could be used against you, especially if you're a business owner or visibly affluent.
The potential for fraud through social media can be scary, but that doesn't mean you and your family members have to avoid it altogether. Instead, it's important to take precautions and use social media wisely, following a few smart rules of the road.
If you have children or teens who use social media, it's important to monitor their accounts.
Limit the amount of information your children share about you and any other family member that would be susceptible to an attack, including basics such as your name, your occupation and where you live.
Teach them to always ask for permission before sharing information about and photos of others.
In addition, establish family rules for how and when to share information. For instance, your children may want to share pictures and videos from your family vacation.
You may not need to forbid them from sharing, but you can make them smarter about how and when they post. For instance, explain that announcing travel plans ahead of time is a bad idea because it could serve as an invitation to fraudsters and burglars, and advise them to only share photos or videos from a trip after you've returned.
For parents who feel they need to more closely monitor their children's online life, Mattson recommended Circle, an in-home device that makes it easy to set guidelines and control children's online activity.
Another dirty trick fraudsters pull involves hijacking existing social profiles and targeting their connections.
If you use Facebook, you've likely received a friend request from someone to whom you're already connected. That second request likely came from a fraudster attempting to mine your profile for information they can use for illegal purposes.
“The most concerning potential is the ability to establish an online relationship over time that seems to be trusting," Mattson said, noting that both children and adults are susceptible to this.
“Sometimes this may be with someone you met online, or it may be a fraudster impersonating someone you actually know in real life. Eventually, when the fraudster believes you trust him or her, they may say they have a financial emergency and ask you to send money."
In order to guard against this kind of scam, make sure that if a connection you made online asks to borrow money, you always verify their identity offline before complying. “Make sure you've established a second line of communication outside the social media platform," Mattson said. “You don't have to be suspicious; just trust everybody twice — online and then through a second avenue of communication."
If you or your family members take quizzes on social media (i.e. what Star Wars character are you?), there's a chance your personally identifying information could get into the hands of criminals, according to the Better Business Bureau.
While not all online quizzes are intended to mine your personal information, many are set up to do just that. If you decide to participate in a quiz, ask yourself these two questions to help identify red flags:
1. Is the quiz asking for permission to access my social media profiles? Avoid any quiz that asks for permission to view your personal profile. Once you do, you could lose control over what information is being shared.
2. Does the data requested seem logical and necessary? For example, if you're taking a quiz about what Star Wars character you are, but you're asked about where you grew up or what your mother's maiden name is, that should be raise an immediate red flag about a site trying to collect your personal data.
To avoid identity theft and other types of fraud via social media, Mattson recommended using multifactor authentication whenever possible. This means that you'll have to present two or more pieces of evidence authenticating your ownership of social media and other accounts before you can access them.
Facebook, for instance, offers two-factor authentication that can be required when someone tries to access your account from an unrecognized computer or mobile device. This means that you'll need to enter a special login code or otherwise confirm your login attempt - an extra step, but worth it in order to deny fraudsters access to your accounts and data.
Additional tips include never posting your birth date and never accepting friend or connection requests from people unless you know and trust them personally, Mattson said.
In addition, make sure you're using a strong password. That means it's at least 12 characters and unrelated to personal identifiable information—no pet names, favorite places or sibling names, for instance.
Also, make sure you use a different password for each online account. It's also smart to establish separate email addresses for all your social media accounts. That way, if one of the platforms gets hacked, it limits the amount of personal data that could be hacked.
It's not necessary to completely avoid social media — these platforms are often the best way to stay connected with people you actually know and care about. But to use social media safely, you and your family members should understand the risks, vigilantly protect your profiles and make smart connections with others, especially when it comes to sharing personal information.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.