Social Media

Social Media May Be Fueling Identity Theft

We'll wait right here while you adjust your privacy settings

Social Media
Illustration: Diana Quach
Jul 06, 2016 at 9:51 AM ET

The number of identity fraud victims has more than doubled in just one year, according to a new study from a UK-based fraud prevention organization called Cifas. The report found that the surge can be at least partially attributed to the growing security problems created by social media usage.

“The likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other online platforms are much more than just social media sites—they are now a hunting ground for identity thieves,” Cifas chief executive Simon Dukes said in a press release. He added that the dramatic rise should encourage social media users to use the strongest possible security settings and post personal information with caution. It won’t, of course, but let the nice man have his dreams.

The study said that 85 percent of these frauds were perpetrated online (i.e. not by over-the-shoulder PIN hackers, and the like). While those between the ages of 31 and 61 experienced the biggest jump in victimization, young, supposedly tech-native people aren’t immune from being duped. Only 57 percent of those between the ages of 18-24 said that they thought about whether or not their personal details are secure online, compared to 73 percent of the overall population. The younger you are, the more comfortable you are online, and that familiarity apparently leads to complacency.

While data on identity theft in the U.S. is not yet available for 2016, the security risks associated with social media usage have been well-documented here, too. Facebook users with public profiles were victims of identity theft 7.5 percent of the time, nearly double that of the general population, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. American hero/traitor Edward Snowden, famous for taking incredible security precautions in order to, uh, release a bunch of stolen government data, basically pleaded with Americans to make their passwords more secure rather than relying on password123. But we don’t listen.

The world’s greatest conman-turned-FBI agent, Frank Abagnale (of “Catch Me If You Can” fame) has cautioned against posting personal information on Facebook. “If you tell me your date of birth and where you’re born [on Facebook] I’m 98% [of the way] to stealing your identity,” he said in 2013.

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As such, Abagnale advised social media users not to make their date/location of birth private (and use group photos for publicly available profile pictures rather than passport-style ones so as to avoid facial recognition).

The U.S. government, however, doesn’t seem to be quite as caught up. While the Department of Justice still advises against “shoulder surfers” that eavesdrop their way into obtaining personal information, its online tip page still doesn’t address social media risk factors. Though it does have a page on social media in which it simply lists its own pages. To which we say, once more, with feeling: delete your account.