Protect against identity theft when sharing photos online

Whether you’re posting a photograph from your latest birthday party to Facebook or sharing images of your new house on Flickr, there are lots of places where you can share your personal photos online. What you may not realise, though, is who may be viewing your photos, and what kind of information they may be providing to anyone who might want to steal your personal data.

Ways of sharing photos

There are several places where people can share their personal photos online. These include:

  • Social media
    Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp allow users to share their personal photos with their family and friends. Depending on your privacy settings, though, your photos – and the personal information that these could contain – could be viewed by people whom you may not know or trust.
  • Other photo-sharing websites
    The main purpose of image hosting websites like Flickr and Imgur is to let you post photos online. Some of these sites may allow you to adjust your privacy settings, while others may make your images publicly viewable by default. Depending on the site and your settings, you may not be in control of who can view your photos.
  • File sharing websites
    File sharing sites like Dropbox or Google Drive let you share your photos with people you know. However, the files could be moved across computers across the world, which gives cyber criminals more chances of accessing the files.

Information fraudsters could get from your photos

Depending on the type of images you’re posting online, you may be releasing more personal details about yourself than you realise. Identity thieves could potentially gather information on you from images that you share online. A photo posted on your birthday, for example, would provide them with your date of birth, whereas a photo of a new house could potentially give them details of where you live. Scientists have also discovered that it’s possible to recreate copies of your fingerprints from 'peace sign selfies'.

How can identity thieves use your personal information?

Cyber criminals with access to your personal data could use it to commit financial fraud. They could pretend to be you in order to open credit accounts – such as for credit cards – leaving you with the bill for their purchases.

Identity thieves could also use your details for non-financial scams, such as pretending to be you on dating websites. If you’ve got a password that’s easy to guess, like your date of birth or where you live, fraudsters who have that kind of information could guess your login details to your social media accounts – these could provide them with even more data about you.

How can you protect against identity fraud when sharing photos online?

If you want to share your photos online, here are some ways to help make sure that they can only be seen by people whom you know and trust.

  • Review the privacy settings
    Whatever platform you’re sharing your photos on, review the privacy settings to ensure that your photos are only viewable by your personal connections.
  • Ensure your passwords are strong
    Whenever you sign up for any type of account, ensure that you use a strong password. This makes it harder for identity thieves to guess what your login details are based on the information they have on you. If you currently use any weak passwords, change them to stronger ones.
  • Review your social media profile photos
    Some social media websites share your photos publicly by default. Ensure that these don’t contain personal information, and keep your social media profiles secure.
  • Remove location data from your photos
    If your camera or phone may contain Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) data, this can include the location the photo was taken in. You may want to turn off this function if possible – or remove EXIF data using related software – before posting your photos online.
  • Protect against malware
    Make sure that the device that you’re using – whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or computer – has up-to-date security software installed. This helps to protect you against being targeted by cyber criminals, for example, if you’re using file sharing apps to show others your photos.

What to do if you think your personal data has been stolen

If you think that your personal information has been stolen, there are some things that you can do to minimise the damage that could be done by identity fraudsters.

  • Contact fraud teams
    Contact the fraud team at any financial providers that you have accounts with, like your bank and credit card lender.
  • Contact Action Fraud
    Get in touch with national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre Action Fraud. You will be given a police crime reference number.
  • Check your credit report
    Your credit report will show if there have been applications for credit made in your name, including any that you’re not aware of. The FREE Equifax Credit Report & Score, which is free for the first 30 days then costs £14.95 monthly, gives you unlimited online access to your report, and alerts you if there are any significant changes to it.

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