Risk of ID theft higher in today’s high-tech world

Even though computers and the Internet have changed our world, consumers need to be reminded that not everyone they come in contact with online is trustworthy.

The growth of social networking sites is undeniable, with the most popular being Facebook with over 400 million users worldwide. Forty percent of Facebook users are people under the age of 25. There are many benefits to signing up for sites like Facebook. Social media sites allow you to do the obvious things such as keep in touch with your family and friends, or even find a new job. As much fun as this can be, users need to be aware of the potential risks associated with being too forthcoming on a public site.

When you innocently mention that you’re going to be out of town, that’s potentially telling the world when your house will be vacant. Even listing daily activities can let strangers know your routine and put you at risk. In other words, if you’re too revealing, you’re asking for trouble, as predators often cruise these sites hoping to steal your personal information for their gain. With just a few clicks of the mouse, they can learn a lot about you.

Consumers unwittingly make it very easy for someone to steal their identity online, as all someone needs is your name, date of birth, and a few other pieces of information that are usually readily available on your social media account, and they’re well on their way. Another reason that the thieves love gaining access to your personal information through social media sites is that it’s perfectly legal. Often doing a simple Internet search using a person’s name pulls up their Facebook account, and that can be Pandora’s Box for the crook.

What happens next? A recent survey by Consumer Reports revealed that fifty-two percent of adult users of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have posted risky personal information online. If your identity is stolen, it can take 30 hours or more and hundreds of dollars to restore your good name and good credit. Twenty-four percent of the complaints associated with ID theft received by the Federal Trade Commission were from individuals between the ages of 20-29, alarmingly similar to the demographic of those who frequent social media sites.

To protect yourself, consider taking the following precautions when utilizing social networks:

  • Be smart about what you reveal about yourself or your family. Less is better.
  • Make sure everyone in the family understands what is acceptable to share online and what’s off-limits. Realize that information a youngster innocently provides on a social networking site can compromise the entire family.
  • Be selective when you allow access to your site. Keeping your circle small, including only those that you personally know can safeguard you.
  • Look at everything you post through the eyes of the crook. See if you could piece together who you are and where you live. Even clever screen names can often be decoded by a thief.

It’s much better to protect yourself against ID theft, than to pick up the pieces after being victimized. The following posts offer additional advice for thwarting identity thieves:

Protect the contents of your wallet
Interview with an ID Theft victim
I was almost a victim of ID Theft
Protect your ID during the holidays
ID Theft victimizes millions each year

Note: This article was provided by The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). The NFCC is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. NFCC Members annually help four million consumers through close to 830 community-based offices nationwide. MMI is a member of the NFCC.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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