If I were an identity thief, where could I go to instantly pull up your full name, date of birth, phone number and e-mail address? Where could I get detailed information that might help me guess at your passwords and rip you off completely? If you’re like most people the answer is Facebook, hands down.
While you’re not posting your social security number on Facebook you’ve given the thieves the ability to make a good start. If they really want more information all they have to do is steal your mail; perhaps by filing a mail forwarding request at the local post office. If they wanted to send you spam mail with phishing links or malware hidden deep within you’ve given them exactly what they need to harvest that data.
If you haven’t changed your privacy settings to “friends only” and you haven’t been circumspect with who you befriend on Facebook you could be in the highest risk group. While many people use Facebook for business networking the fact is that most of us do not need to make friends with every random person who sends us a request. You’re not really hurting anybody’s feelings by clicking the “Ignore” button on a stranger’s request. You’re simply decreasing the likelihood that you will open your personal data up to people who might use it unscrupulously. This measure won’t remove your risk completely—17% of all identity thefts are perpetrated by people who the victims know and trust—but it will certainly cut down on your chances.
In addition, you should be careful where you click. Hackers have become adept at making it look as though someone has posted a legitimate link. When you click on it, you end up downloading a host of malware and spyware to your computer. All those games and applications? Give them a pass. Not only will you stop annoying all your friends with your progress on Farmville or Fish World, but you will also decrease any application based information thefts that might be floating around on Facebook, which is a common way that thieves manage to get around the “friends” requirement. Worse still, the applications can open all of your friend’s data up to the thieves, as well.
What about your schedule? Do you share your current location on Facebook often? You could simply be letting thieves know that you aren’t home, which makes it the perfect time to break in and steal, not only a few goods from your home, but any documents which might make stealing your identity and cleaning you out later easy.
In our highly networked, highly plugged in culture of over-sharing it’s easy to get swept away by the “cool” factor. Couple that with the “that will never happen to me” idea that most people have and you wind up with a situation that is the online equivalent of walking through a dark alley by yourself, carrying several shopping bags from high end stores all over town while listening to your iPod—you become an irresistible target.