People are very casual about the information they post on social network sites like Facebook and MySpace. This makes it very easy for criminals to discover information about them, break into their homes or even steal their identity.
If you put your name, address, date of birth, phone numbers, email addresses and other information on a social network site check your security settings. The default setting for who can see what you post on your page usually offered by social networking sites is ‘everybody’. If you leave it set to ‘everybody’ it means that anyone can see your profile information and this makes it very easy for identity thieves to steal your identity.
According to a New York Times article, two researchers from Carnegie-Mellon University were able to predict the Social Security number of 8.5% of people born between 1989 and 2003 in the United States. That may not be a high percentage but it’s nearly five million people! They were able to do this using a combination of information available on social network sites, other public records and computer number-generating programs. Once a thief has your Social Security number they can use it to steal your identity. It can then be very difficult to prove that you are you and not the criminal, and you could even be arrested for something they did using your ID.
Even if you have your Facebook or MySpace page privacy settings set to ‘friends only’, you are still setting yourself up for possible identity fraud. This is especially true if you have hundreds of ‘friends’ some of whom you have only met online. Teens, who are often naive and vulnerable, need to be extremely careful about who they accept as ‘friends’.
A criminal can create a fake identity profile and can search through a social worksite like Facebook and ask a teen if they can be a ‘friend’ saying that they met them at a party or other event. Many teenagers compete to see who has the most ‘friends’ and will accept someone as a ‘friend’ just because they ask, or because they are a ‘friend’ of someone else on their ‘friends’ list! All the thief needs to do is to get just one young person to accept them as a ‘friend’ and then they can end up being ‘friends’ with hundreds if not thousands of teenagers and get lots of information about them. This is especially easy when teens tend to have their privacy setting set to ‘everyone’ or ‘friends of friends’.
It is very easy to create a fake profile on these sites. There is no way for the sites to verify you are who you say you are. Identity thieves can create a fake profile of you, as recently happened to a professor in Thailand. The thieves created a fake profile on Facebook using the real woman’s picture and convinced people that she was raising money for Japanese earthquake victims. Another false Facebook page was created to malign the reputation of a well known doctor in Britain, by making it appear that she was criticizing an Olympic gold medalist. Other fake profiles have been used to cyberbully school students or ruin people’s reputation by saying that they were prostitutes or pedophiles. Fakers also create false pages of celebrities as ‘pranks’ or create pages to lure someone into a ‘relationship’ with a non-existent person. Pedophiles and other sex abusers also create false identities to groom children or insecure teens, often leading to tragedy.
Remember once something is online it is online forever – somewhere in cyberspace. So be very careful what information you post about yourself online and check your profile settings!