Authored by a Symantec employee

 

When it come to social media, familiarity breeds comfort. It's a maxim that can have costly consequences . Getting so comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn (to name just a few platforms) may lead you to overshare information. This potentially results in you being targeted for scams, identity theft and more. The best approach is prevention. That is, simply don’t share the information in the first place. Here are three kinds of data you should avoid sharing; this applies even if you have relatively high privacy settings.

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1. Personal details that help identify you

This one can get a bit tricky because, for example, users need to know your name to reach you on social media. But do they need to know your middle name? Nope. How about your pet’s name? Nope. So, here is what to watch out for when you list, post or mention information:

  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Address
  • Birthday
  • Age
  • Names of your children
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Middle name
  • Names of your pets
  • High school

Now, is it realistic to expect social media users to refrain from mentioning all of the above, particularly when platforms such as Facebook are forever urging folks to update their profiles? No, it isn’t realistic, although it would be nice. At the very least, ensure that the public can’t see information such as your birthday and high school on your profile. Limit that to friends only. Other good news for birthday lovers: There’s no need to miss out on all of the “Happy birthday!” wishes. Some people get around the birthday recommendation by listing a date that is close to their actual birthday (three or four days off, for example).

It is easy to overlook the damage photographs can do. Is your teen excited about getting a driver’s license? Did he or she post a picture of it on social media? In such cases, you (or the teen) should use boxes to block out pertinent data. You could also have taken a cute picture of your cat on a table in front of the window, all the while not realizing that an intrepid viewer could download the picture and use zoom to read the job application you filled out and that is lying right on the table. Being aware of your surroundings and being a good picture cropper go a long way.

“But wait,” you may be asking. “What’s the harm in listing my pet’s name?” Okay, good question. The implications of sharing your Social Security number are pretty clear but less so with pet names. One big reason is password theft. Many folks use some variation of their current or previous pets’ names in a password. Furthermore, pet names are often included as account security questions. So, say you posted a story last month about your childhood cat, McBeans. That story also mentioned the high school you went to. Someone who wants to steal your password now has two valuable bits of ammunition.

2. The wheres and whens of vacations

Many people fall down on this one, so if you have too, you are far from alone. After all, social media is tailor-made for sharing glamorous vacation pictures. However, saying something such as, “We’re headed to Honolulu the first week of July!” is dangerous. Namely, it is risky because it’s a signal to thieves that your house may be available for breaking into. (And if thieves do break in, your insurance company may use your social media posts to deny a claim if your policy has a “reasonable care” clause. This section is in your policy to help ensure you take care in safeguarding possessions.)

Even keeping mum on where you are and simply uploading pictures may not be enough. Someone could infer from your geotag or from that hotel in the background that you’re currently 2,000 miles from home. Actually, you should turn geotagging off entirely because you put yourself at risk every time you disclose your location, even if you’re close to home.

Post vacation pictures if you want—but only after you are safely home. And take a look at your tag privacy settings. It can be a pain to reject 50 requests from Mom and Dad to tag you in pictures, but again, you’ll appreciate coming home to an intact house. In fact, if you see that the people you’re vacationing with are talking about you in photo posts, discuss your concerns with them.

3. Splashy purchases

Did you just buy a new car or the most recent iPhone? Good for you, but be careful sharing that information. For one thing, boasting about purchases might alienate some of your friends. Perhaps more seriously, it can also compromise your safety. Someone could want that iPhone and wouldn’t be against stealing it. Also, talking about the new love of your life—an expensive puppy you just acquired—combines two big social media share no-nos: pets and splashy purchases.

For someone who loves posting about upcoming vacations and adores talking about Whiskerkins’ antics, it may seem impossible to avoid oversharing on social media. Many people have been this way, but after their first brush with identity theft, they clamp down. And they do it well.

One tip is to scale back. Are all or most of your posts public? Change them to friends only, and turn off geotagging. Go through your profile and cover pictures, which should be public. Check them and the captions/comments for identifying information. Delete anything that gives you doubt. Also remove tags of yourself from others’ Facebook accounts. You never know who is on their friends list, plus their accounts could be largely public.

Be careful about who you accept as a friend on platforms such as Facebook. Changing your settings from public to friends does little good if you gladly accept requests from strangers. Also beware of duplicate accounts; if “Mary Robinson” is already your Facebook friend, verify that this new request is actually from her. Many identity thieves and scammers want to trick you into thinking they are someone you trust.

When it comes to social media discretion is highly advised. The digital landscape is a great place for identity thieves and cyber criminals to lurk in a cloak of anonymity. Keep yourself and your devices safe with a combination of common sense and a robust Internet security suite like Norton Security.

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