A recent study put together by The Javelin Group has some disturbing findings: The incidence of identity theft in 2012 was up 13 percent, compared to the previous year. The total amount stolen was about the same, but the thieves successfully scammed more people.
Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn users take heed: The study found that there were specific factors that put social media users at elevated risk of getting scammed:
- 68 percent of social media users publicly shared their birthday.
- 63 percent shared the name of their high school.
- 18 percent shared their phone number.
- 12 percent shared their pet's name.
All of the above information represents the kinds of things a company would use to verify your identity, according to the study's authors. In some cases, scammers have been known to bluff their way through customer service representatives to get access to other important information - and even wipe out entire accounts. When young or vulnerable people share this information, it could make them more susceptible to stalkers or sexual predators.
The Smartphone Factor
The study also found that smartphone users were a third more likely to be victims of identity theft than non-smartphone users. This doesn't mean, necessarily, that smartphones are to blame. But it does seem to indicate that the people who use smartphones are doing something to make them more vulnerable or attractive to scammers.
What can you do to avoid being a victim?
- Password protect your phone.
- Don't use credit cards for Internet transactions over public networks. Thieves have "sniffers" that can extract that data.
- Don't store credit card numbers or bank account information on your laptop.
- Use different passwords for mobile banking apps on your phone than passwords you do for your phone and email.
- Promptly report any suspicion that your sensitive personal information has been compromised.
- Keep documents that list Social Security numbers off of your laptop, or encrypt that data if you do store there.
- Keep private information private. If any company uses specific information about you to verify your identity - your mothers' maiden name, pet names, birthdays, etc., keep it off Facebook and any other social media site.
Is your mother on your Facebook page? Does she use her maiden name? You are vulnerable.
Pro tip: If your mother is on your Facebook page, and you share your date of birth, you are a prime candidate for ID theft.