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Identity Theft in Social Media and Proactive Things You Can Do to Prevent It

September 27, 2023

holding a phone protecting against social fraud

Social media has become a profitable territory for scammers. In 2021, 95,000 people reported losses of large amounts of money to fraud schemes originating on social media platforms. This number of social media-related fraud incidents represents an eighteen-fold increase since 2017. In addition, reports of social media scams are up in every age group[1].

Scammers flock to social media because it is a cheap way to contact billions of unsuspecting users from any location worldwide. However, you can protect yourself by learning these details about social media scams and how to avoid scammers and their tricks. 

man on laptop trying to get in

What Is Social Media Identity Theft?

Criminals commit social media identity theft by using someone's photos and personal information on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to create fake social media profiles. 

Criminals often use fake social media profiles to get people to send them money, sign up for bogus investment schemes, or reveal sensitive personal information. Social media fraudsters sometimes get enough information from you or your followers to break into your bank account or open credit card accounts in your name.

How Scammers Can Steal Your Identity Through Social Media

Your social media activity doesn't automatically expose you to the risk of social media identity theft. However, criminals rely on the sharing nature of social media and certain user habits to get opportunities to defraud them. The following are some common ways social media scammers try to steal your identity.

Fraudulent Accounts Online

Scammers can create a fraudulent social media account with photos and personal information from a user's account. They can also hack into an existing account to pose as your friends. So, you should be careful if you get messages from your "friends" that seem out of character or ask for money.

Similarly, romance scams are among the most common fraudulent account scams on social media. In these social media scams, criminals create fraudulent accounts showcasing photos of a person and believable details. Using the persona of the fake person, the scam artists frequently start the communications with a friend request. Then, they flirt with the targeted users to get money or personal information from them. Romance scammers often use fake Facebook accounts[1].

Knowledge of Your Current or Frequented Locations

It may seem like a good idea to tag your home location on a social media post while you and your friends enjoy watching a Notre Dame football game on TV. Some of your other friends may want to drop by and need directions. On the other hand, you may be allowing criminals to get enough information to steal your identity.

Criminals can run a change-of-address scam using your name and address. They run the scam by using this personal information to reroute your mail to their address, allowing them to receive confidential financial documents with your social security number, birth date, and other personal details. With this sensitive information, crooks could access your bank accounts, investment accounts, or other valuable spaces.  

Post-Assisted Password Attacks

Many cybercriminals' full-time job is trying to harvest passwords illegally — and your social media may help them get yours. In their attempt to break into your private spaces, they use apps to generate thousands of password combinations from common passwords, AI-generated word lists, and clues from your social media posts.

Many social media users commonly include their birthdate, pet's name, home city, or high school alma mater, and other personal details in their passwords. As a result, any of these details you share on social media can help hackers access your social media accounts. And if you use the same password for multiple accounts, the hackers may breach accounts other than the ones on social media.

Malware and Identity Stealing Apps

Since an average of 40% of social media users buy products through social media ads, marketers offer users downloadable games, quizzes, and third-party apps containing ads for products and services [2].

Unfortunately, lax cybersecurity enables hackers to use social media games and quiz downloads to gain access to your social media accounts or register new ones. They can also use downloads to install malware on your devices to gather very sensitive information. Frequently, third-party apps request access to your camera, audio, contacts, location, and other personal information. This practice could allow hackers to collect even more information about you.

How to Protect Against Social Media Identity Theft

Although scammers are a menace on social media sites, you can make your time on sites like Facebook or Instagram safer by preventing identity theft and protecting yourself from social media scams. Here's how.

Reduce by Strengthening Your Passwords

Passwords are the primary protective shield between outsiders and your precious social network and financial accounts. For this reason, you should ensure they are as strong as possible. You can do this by:

  • Including at least eight characters and a mix of letters, numbers, special symbols, and cases
  • Only sharing them with trusted sources
  • Avoid including personal references, such as birthdate, pet names, the city you live in, or best friend names.
  • Not reusing or recycling passwords
  • Occasionally changing your passwords

In addition, it is safer to choose a different username for each account, especially your bank accounts and other financial accounts. Also, you should avoid using your email address to sign in whenever possible.

Learn How to Identify Fake Accounts

The ability to spot fake social media accounts can substantially increase your defenses against identity theft. Two of the most revealing signs of scammers are bogus names and profiles. When you receive a friend request from a suspected scammer, you can Google their name to check whether they have other legitimate accounts.

Although fraudsters are getting more skillful, their photos are typically low-quality or stolen from stock photo sites. You can often find a photo's origin through a reverse image search[3]. Also, the profile and message content is usually a copy of material from other sites. Running a copy of the content through an online plagiarism checker will likely lead you to the original source.

Turn Off Location Tagging

Although location tagging is valuable to the social media site, you receive little benefit from it compared to the security risks you assume. Social media entertains a vast and diverse audience. So, being vague about your location is usually the safest option. For instance, you could say you're in Northern Indiana instead of Fort Wayne.

Use Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication

Even if hackers steal some of your sensitive information and passwords, you can still prevent them from gaining access to your accounts with two-factor authentication (2FA) or multiple-factor authentication (MFA).

Both security features require a unique one-time use code on top of your login information. For added security, you should use a Google or Authy-type authenticator app instead of text messaging.

Enjoying Social Media in a Safer Environment

Social media is a terrific platform for sharing your experiences and ideas with people you may not have met otherwise. But some people use social media's sharing nature for criminal motives. By using these safety tips, you can enjoy your social media activity without worrying about hackers and scammers. For more information about protecting your assets, contact Centier Bank.