Social Media Identity Theft: Are You at Risk?

Social Media Identity Theft: Are you at Risk?
March 17, 2013

By: Kim Brimm
Managing Editor, Tampa Bay

Boy meets girl over Facebook. Boy and girl strike up a friendship. Boy and girl exchange pictures, love notes and even music--on Facebook. Boy and girl begin romantic relationship and eventually fall in love. Boy and girl have never seen each other outside of the pictures they have shared via the Internet. Boy wants to meet girl. Girl obliges and sends him her address. Boy arrives at girl’s home and is greeted by her 50-year-old-mother who tells him that is was actually her that he was talking to all this time and that the pictures she sent were of her daughter. Boy is crushed.
Unfortunately, stories like this happen every day and some are even filmed for the MTV television show Catfish. The shows features people who have formed relationships with people online but have never in seen them in person or over video chat. The show’s creator (and subject of the movie that spawned the show of the same name) investigates the relationships and arrange for the two to meet in person. Sometimes the meetings are catastrophic and at other times comical. The show has garnered a cult like following with millions taking over timelines on Fcebook and Twitter on Monday nights with their comments.
Social media use has skyrocketed over the last decade and with it new avenues for identity theft have emerged. In a 2012 study, Javeline Strategy and Research found certain social media and cell phone behaviors presented a higher risk for identity theft. Smartphone users have a higher incidence rate than the general public. The high incidence for social media and cell from uses comes from significant amount of information that is shared to authenticate your identity. In the study, LinkedIn and Google+ had the highest rates of fraud with 10.1 and 7 percent respectively.
The increase in identity theft comes from the increased use of social media globally. The more active a user is the greater the risk for theft of the information shared. With just your name, date of birth, hobbies and school location a criminal can steal your identity.
This information should be closely managed. Everyday activities on our computers and cell phones make us all susceptible to having our identities stolen. For example, more than 90 percent of Facebook users have at least one application active on their profile. A number of these applications are not reviewed and can be used for criminal purposes. Phones with GPS can easily share your location with the world as well as you address and places you visit. Lastly, fake profiles can be used by people to bully, defraud or defame individuals.
So how can we all protect ourselves short of deleting our existence on social media? It starts with simple tasks.

  • Never give out your social security number or drivers license.
  • Use unique passwords and usernames for each profile.
  • Change passwords regularly.
  • Never give out your address, date of birth or graduation dates.
  • Only invite people into your network who you actually know or met.
With close monitoring of your profiles and these practices you will greatly decrease your risk of social media identity theft.
Kim Brimm is a Managing Editor for the Cooley Tampa Bay campus. She also serves on the ABA Law Student Division class representative. If you have an idea for an article, would like to join her team, or just want to help her with her experiment called "Law School" feel free to contact her at