A few months back it was published in the national and international press that people could be targeted by burglars if they had status updates indicating they’re on holidays or away.
We mostly giggled, as if the common garden cat burglar was that tech savvy.
Status update: steal my identity
Theft of possessions is one thing but throw in the word identity and the giggling stops. According to an article in The Irish Times “People posting apparently innocuous information on social networking sites could leave themselves open to identity theft”.
It’s not too difficult to give away personal details through conversations and status updates on Twitter or via Facebook if your status updates are public – you can set them so just your friends can see them (I have).
We might not like to give away our ages, but having your birthday (and year of birth) publicly available online is not a good idea, same goes for your home address.
Information others control online about you
But even if you’re personally careful online, you have to be conscious of details friends, family and colleagues may have innocently posted online about you.
For example, I know of one sole trader facing a bad debt who wanted to find out more details about the company director who had stopped taking their calls about the bad debt, and wanted to know more about them. No combinations of the individual’s name in search engines came up with anything like a photo, a news story, a Facebook account. They were essentially faceless.
The bad debtor had a video on their company website, hosted on YouTube, with an unusual username. Once this username was Googled it threw up results including the individual’s Facebook account and other online accounts they had with this same username. However, the Facebook account was private and didn’t feature a photo of the person in question.
But, on clicking on ‘View Friends’ and then on the profile of an older woman with the same surname, the person chasing this bad debt was finally given a picture of the bad debtor. His mum, a woman in her 60s who doesn’t know a thing about Facebook privacy options, had her profile public, along with captioned photos of her son the bad debtor on his wedding day with his wife and son.
The person went away happy – rather than identity theft, it was a case of identity found: they’d a face to the person who wasn’t available on phone or e-mail and who only had a vague business address registered with the Companies Registration Office.
We all have the choice to protect the information we give out about ourselves online and the information that others innocently share about us online. It may be called ego or vanity searching, but there’s no harm in searching online regularly for your name, or indeed, phone numbers and addresses, and common usernames you use to see where you’re mentioned and what you can do about it. It might be an idea, before someone else gets to it, or gets to you.