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Too Much Social Sharing can Put Your Identity at Risk

There are many tangible and intangible benefits associated with being a Facebook member. Currently, a good percentage of the network's one billion+ membership enjoys the advantages Facebook has to offer. In 2012 the network reported 552 million daily users log on to Facebook to socialize and share information. By June 2014, this number jumped to 829 million.

While there are many advantages in social sharing, it is important to be aware of the drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, the criminal element of society lurks on Facebook looking to steal information from you (and other networks too - Facebook just happens to be the biggest target due to its massive membership). Those who actively share too much information, or the wrong kind of information, may find themselves particularly at risk.

[ Related Reading: A Look at Facebook's Rise to the Top ]

Facebook is a General Target

When it comes to cybercrimes such as identity theft, Facebook is a gold mine for thieves seeking to pilfer personal data. One of the primary reasons criminals love the network so much is that it is valuable virtual property. Not much unlike walking into someone's home and stealing information, cyber criminals "walk" into the network, enter the various "apartments", especially those left unlocked, and swipe what information they can; the intention is to commit  identity theft.

With hundreds of millions of active accounts, there are plenty of identities for thieves to choose from, and thieves are most likely to especially target those people who do not use good privacy and security habits when it comes to their accounts.

Personal Information

Full names, photos, birthdays, addresses, phone numbers and names of family members being shared, either with the community at large, or even in smaller circles, all form a welcoming mat for a thief to try to steal an identity. 

Facebook's business model calls for real information, rather than anonymous names as was the trend in year's past on other networks. That being the case, Facebook users have to seriously consider any potential consequences when it comes to deciding how much information is too much to share. Several of the network's features openly share information, and a good number of users probably have no idea how widespread their information can potentially go. However, identity thieves often do, and know exactly what to look for and they are very good at pretending to be someone they aren't in order to gather more information.

Credit Card Theft
Credit: Don Hankins/Found on Wikimedia Commons-Creative Commons License/Attribution


 Identity thieves often sit on the other side of a screen with the intention to pilfer information off the web. 

"TMI" on Shared Details

A person who posts too much information on his or her personal activities opens him or herself up to additional risk. Thieves will steal personal data; however, sometimes it is the other golden nuggets shared in status updates or other postings which can be the clincher for committing identity theft. 

Consider the types of security questions used on banking or other accounts. Most of those answers could probably be found on Facebook if a person isn't creative enough to make hard to answer questions. Pets, mother's maiden names, and elementary schools are all popular security questions - all of which can typically be easily to find on Facebook if the thief is looking for this information.

Regional, Education and Work History

In addition to the general Facebook membership, both large and small subgroups are often created. Generally there are regional networks, school networks, and employer networks, to name a few that people enthusiastically join. Thieves can quietly gather this information and create a whole history of your life. Couple that with the information displayed publicly, or even privately stored, on a Facebook account, and an identity thief could potentially hit the virtual jackpot.

Status Updates

You might be wondering how status updates could lead to identity theft? Most of this information seems pretty ordinary.  However, consider a situation where you plan to be out of the house for a vacation, a weekend or even just for the day, and you post this information in your status. Some thieves are bold enough to skip trying to nab information out of a Facebook account and will go right to your physical home. Also to consider is the popular "checking in" features that stream into cyberland and are often posted on Facebook.

Consider all the papers, computers (if not secure) and other items lying around the house that could result in identity theft. People have the right to feel safe in their homes; however, there have been many instances where thieves monitor status updates and then head off to their "friends" homes with the intent to steal. Not a far stretch to think identity might be on the list of items to pinch while breaking and entering.

Thief opening a window
Credit: Eastlake Times Flickr/Creative Commons License 2.0

Some identity thieves skip skimming personally identifying information off Facebook; instead they monitor status updates and then go straight to the homes of people who post they'll be away.

Social media is a pastime that is likely here to stay for a while. All trends indicate today's web generation, and likely the next, are going to be engaging on a social web. That being the case, it is important to consider the flip side, be aware of the theft issues that can arise, and use common sense when sharing information either publicly or privately. Even if you think your information is safely stored behind privacy settings, it is important to know, those privacy settings are not infallible, glitches can and do occasionally occur. Not to mention geolocation tagging can offer thieves additional information.

Nothing on the web is 100 percent, and the one thing certain is that it is an ever changing environment where much can - and does - happen. While there are many advantages of both technology and the social web, it definitely does not come without its drawbacks.

[ Related Reading: 5 Ways a Facebook Addiction Can Disrupt Lives ]