The Perils of Social Media

Most of us have heard of a “Facebook Party” where a teenager posts details on social media and finds they have more guests than they anticipated. One such party in a £1 million Highgate home ended up with 600 guests and the property being trashed.

Another party invitation in Haren, Netherlands, despite being cancelled in advance and police issuing warnings not to come, had 3,000 visitors and turned into a riot.

But there are other ways in which you might be at risk via social media. Your date of birth is a critical piece of identifying information.  Think how often you are asked to confirm your date of birth, post code and your first line of your address to confirm your identity when calling your bank, home insurance company or energy supplier.

Yet many people have their full name, home town and birthday – sometimes their full date of birth – on display on their Facebook profile, together with a convenient face picture that could be cloned. A telephone directory and your Facebook profile may be all someone needs to start impersonating you.

Exposing too much personal data on social media or “friending” the wrong people could lead to identity theft. Are you placing your friends at risk? It may seem like a great idea to wish your mate a Happy 40th Birthday.  But you’ve just told anyone who can see their profile that their date of birth is 13.09.74.

Making friends with strangers online can be a fun way of interacting with the outside world but by giving them access to your profile you may be handing over a lot of personal information: Your likes and dislikes, marital status, religion, racial profile, sexual orientation, political leanings, employer, lifestyle patterns, etc. The problem is that you do not know who that stranger you befriended is.

Most of the time they will probably just be someone who is interested in chatting online and meeting new people.  But how do you know it’s not a professional conman, the burglar from the dodgy estate half a mile away or someone you really annoyed at work by getting promoted over them. If they can see you live alone and help out at the youth club every Wednesday evening, they know the house is likely to be empty.

Some of us even help them by posting details of when we are going on that lovely 2-week family holiday to Abu Dhabi. The Guardian has a detailed interview with an ex-conman on the risks we expose ourselves to online. Here are a few ideas for staying safe:

  • A good rule of thumb for any personal information is: Does anyone else need to know this? If not, don’t post it online.
  • Only “friend” people online who you know in real life.
  • Do not advertise when you will be away from home (even if you think only your friends can see it).
  • Use the privacy settings provided. For example, Facebook provides a Privacy Check-Up under the padlock symbol at the top-right of the screen. If there is no good reason for others to see your personal data, either delete it or set it to the Only Me option.
  • Further settings are available under the down arrow to the right of the padlock, then click Settings and Privacy (on the left).

Although I have used Facebook as an example here, this applies to any online profile you have. Your personal data is valuable, so it is worth keeping it safe.