Safeguard your identity on Facebook and other social media sites

How well do you know your connections or followers on social media? More importantly, how well do they know you?

If you’ve shared too much personal information on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media platforms, you could be putting yourself at risk of identity theft. Fraudsters may try to befriend you using fake profiles, or by assuming real identities of people or companies that you may know.

Once they have access to your social media posts, they can collect personal data on you, such as your name, date of birth, and even your bank name or credit card number, depending on what details you’re sharing online. They can then use this information to commit fraud – for example, by applying for a financial product like a loan or credit card in your name. Victims often do not realise that their identities have been stolen until they receive an unexpected bill asking for payment.

Cyber criminals may even compile personal details of deceased individuals, which can be deeply upsetting for their loved ones. They may also try to steal personal data from children and use these to commit fraud.

How to keep your identity safe on social media

There are many ways in which you could accidentally share more information than intended. Here are some ways to protect yourself against this:

  • Check your privacy settings
    When setting up a social media account, make sure that you’ve adjusted the relevant privacy controls so that strangers won’t be able to view your personal details and posts. (If the privacy setting on your Facebook posts is ‘Friends of Friends’, for instance, you won’t know who exactly has access to your information). Remember to check these regularly, as social media platforms may add new privacy features that you’ll have to turn off manually.
  • Don’t include personal information in your user name or email address
    Avoid including details in your user name or email address that could be used by fraudsters to piece together your identity. For example, ‘Jane_London’ may suggest that you live in London, while ‘Joe1971’ could suggest that you were born in 1971.
  • Don’t accept invitations to connect from strangers
    You’re only human, and it’s possible to slip up and overshare without realising it. You could minimise any risk of identity theft if your personal details and posts are only available to people whom you know. Don’t connect with strangers as this gives them access to this information, which they could use to commit fraud.
  • Be careful about what you post
    Even if you’re only connected to your friends and family on social sites, their accounts could potentially be hacked. This means that the hackers could have access to your posts. Avoid sharing personal information, like your credit card number or holiday dates (you don’t want criminals to know when you won’t be at home).
  • Change your passwords regularly
    If a cybercriminal has access to your passwords, they may not act immediately. Instead, they could take the opportunity to spy on your activities and compile a list of your personal data. Changing your passwords regularly minimises the changes of long-term snooping.
  • Verify links that you receive
    Don’t automatically click on any links that you receive on social media, especially when they appear to have been sent to you by someone you know. If their account has been hacked, you could be clicking to download malware, or redirected to enter personal information on an unsecure website.
  • Provide as little information as possible to third-party apps
    Be careful when allowing third-party apps access to your social media accounts. Check that they’re provided by reputable companies. Even then, you should enter as little personal information as possible. This way, you’re limiting the amount of your personal data that could be affected in case the apps encounter any security breaches.
  • Make sure your device is secure
    Ensure that your smartphone, laptop or other digital device has security software installed to protect your privacy.

What to do if your identity has been stolen

If you discover or suspect that your identity has been stolen, there are some key steps that you can take to try to minimise the damage. These include:

  • Getting a copy of your credit report
    This will show you whether any applications for credit have been made in your name against your knowledge. Your Equifax Credit Report & Score, which is free for the first 30 days, then £14.95 a month, shows you your credit history, including applications for credit made in your name.
  • Contact your financial providers’ fraud teams
    Get in touch with the fraud teams at any financial providers that you’re registered with, like your bank or credit card company.
  • Action fraud
    You can also report any instances of fraud or cybercrime to Action Fraud, the national centre for reporting these types of crime in the UK.

Don’t allow yourself to be a victim of identity theft. It’s possible to connect with friends, family and trusted acquaintances on social media without disclosing your personal information – just be careful about what you’re sharing online.

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