Manti Teo's "girlfriend" brought fake social media profiles to the forefront, but it's not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, social networking sites have great potential for abuse and it's only the latest way scum try to do what they've done for centuries - take advantage of others. I don't say this to scare you, but rather to prepare you. In fact, I just did a segment with local TV station KJRH-TV about a recent heart breaking example. The station was contacted by a war hero who's Facebook identity was stolen in order to milk money out of innocent women on Facebook. The picture above is a fake page, using the very real pictures of a a local Staff Sgt. He had no idea someone swiped his "identity" to swindle women until one of the victims got suspicious and tracked down the REAL soldier. (There's a special place in hell for that scam artist.. but I digress.) Because social media is here to stay, I want to hone in on what you can do to protect yourself and possibly discover bogus profiles.
Don't be naive!
DON'T make the following things public on your profiles:
Full name (particularly your middle name)
Social Security # or Driver's License
Birth City and State
Date of Birth (particularly your year)
Pet Names or other things you might use for passwords
This doesn't mean cancel anything and everything... just know there are ways to be smart about what you share and with whom you share it. For instance... on Facebook, you can make your birthday and month public but not the year of your birth.
So, how do you do that on Facebook, for instance? Click on the wheel-looking icon in the far right corner and scroll down to “privacy settings.”
Make sure all of your settings are set up for friends only. You’ll want to check these settings at least once a month because Facebook is always changing. (I always say.. the only thing that changes faster than life is Facebook. Yes, you can quote me on that....)
If you use a public computer, you meed to log off properly from your social media accounts (Or any accounts for that matter!). If not, the next person who sits there may pretend to be you.
Plus, it's more than logins, privacy and passwords... think before you post. Don't mention that your family is about to leave town and you worry if your plants will survive w/out you. While this might not get your identity stolen, it might assure your belongs find a new home. Along the same lines, disable GPS or location functions on pictures if you're going to be away from home for an extended period of time.
Google yourself regularly. This is not just for public figures anymore. Google all spellings of your name and nick names. Check out any social media sites that come up. Yes, there may be plenty of other people with your name, but is the picture you too? Google your name on images. Do any of those pictures trace back to sites with which you're not connected? Do the same thing with a search on Facebook.
Also, it's smart to monitor your credit which you can do once a year for free. Not only can scum use your identity to break hearts, steal money and lure children.. but they can use what you post to tap you for everything you have.
Be a Dog w/ a Bone
As an investigative reporter, I interviewed more identity victims than I can count... and each of them spent 5-7 years clearing their name. To make this clear.. THEY DID NOTHING WRONG and yet THEY had to spend years making things right. In this day and age of social media, nothing has changed. It may be easier than ever to steal your identity, but its just as hard as ever to clean up the mess.
Appeal directly to the social network where the offense happend... and don't give up. Keep after them, even if they say there's nothing they can do. They're not going to react with lightning speed, but if you can prove who you say you are, they should remove the offender's account. Law enforcement can't keep make laws fast enough to keep up with our changing technology, so unfortunately, the burden is on us to not give up.
Again, you don't have to stop using social media... just be smarter about it. That's why I love social media STRATEGY. Think before you post and realize you need to protect yourself. What safety measures do YOU take? I'd love to hear from you....
Great article from Experian ~ Facebook Fraud: Identity Theft through Social Networking
Great article from Discover Card ~ Staying Safe on Social Media