This fall’s Facebook security breach that exposed data from 50 million user accounts served as an unfortunate reminder that what is shared online is never truly private. Many consumers have considered the risks associated with posting online through popular social media platforms and have adjusted their privacy settings accordingly. However, most probably haven’t put much thought behind what they might be sharing, perhaps unintentionally, on platforms lesser known for their social sharing capabilities. And while the data shared on these platforms might seem inconsequential, even non-financial personal information may be utilized by a thief to steal one’s identity. Below are some popular apps that you may be surprised to discover just how much information you’re publically sharing on.
Venmo, a popular peer-to-peer payment app that conveniently allows people to send and receive money between friends and family, might be sharing more than you think via its social features. Venmo does not explicitly state that the default setting is public when you initially create the account, and while they recently removed displaying the transaction amount exchanged between people, who you’re sending money to and why are automatically revealed to your network. In essence, if you don’t manually adjust your privacy settings, any transactions you did last year over Venmo were part of the 207,984,218 public ones in 2017. While sharing transaction details might seem harmless, a Berlin-based researcher recently studied the risks associated with this and discovered that a lot can be gleaned from this data, which could make users vulnerable to embarrassing revelations and stalking. If you haven’t already, we suggest going into your settings and making your account private so that the world doesn’t have access to information about your personal transactions. In addition, you should consider taking the following actions:
- Create a passcode for your app so that if your phone were to end up in the wrong hands, the thief wouldn’t be able to access your Venmo account and drain your bank account.
- Change the privacy settings for all old payments.
- Add two-step authentication by not clicking on “remember me” upon login. By doing so, you will be asked to confirm your identity every time you log in, which makes it difficult for anyone, other than the original account owner, to proceed. If you’ve previously clicked on “remember me” and want to remove that device, go here.
- Link your account to a credit card for added consumer protections.
- Regularly check your account activity.
- Avoid payments to people you don’t know, especially if it involves a sale for goods and services.
Another platform that might be sharing information about you without your knowledge is Amazon. Your Amazon profile contains public features and allows anyone, including advertisers and scammers, the ability to view your comments, ratings, wish lists (which defaults to public), and biographical information. Like Venmo, if you don’t manually go into your privacy settings and adjust them, anyone could have access to your wish lists by using your first and last name or your email address. While the purpose of these lists is for friends and family to see what you’re “wishing” to have from Amazon, since it’s public, there is no way of knowing who else you are sharing this information with. That being said, each piece of personal information is like a puzzle piece which can be put together and utilized to commit an identity crime. So, it’s important to keep this in mind every time you share something with the public online. To minimize your risks, you should consider doing away with this feature by going into Amazon’s privacy settings and removing your list from being public. You should also consider adjusting other features that you didn’t realize are public, such as reviews, questions, and who you follow. Some other actions can you take to protect your privacy include the following:
- Remove your Amazon public profile.
- Stop Amazon from tracking your browsing history. Learn how to do both these steps here.
The purpose of social media platforms is to share thoughts and photos with others, but if you’re not careful, you might be sharing information you had intended to share with only your friends. For example, if you share public information from a public post, it will appear on your account to everyone, even if your profile is set to private. This can be confusing because you might think your entire profile is private including what you share. But, if you share a post on your feed that has public settings, it will be viewable on your Facebook profile as well. It’s important to remember that the information you post to your profile might be giving thieves a better idea of who you are, where you are, and what you like, which could have lasting consequences. By knowing more about you, they can increase their chances of being able to successfully impersonate you when attempting to fraudulently open new accounts or sign up for new services. To keep yourself safe, it’s important to not only be cautious when sharing public posts to your profile, but you should be mindful of all of the posts you share – even those that are seen only by friends.
This October, it’s National Cyber Security Awareness month, which makes it an ideal time to take a closer look at what you are sharing online and with whom. With every account you create, regardless of whether it’s a social media platform or not, adjusting privacy settings should be the first step you take before exploring what the app/website has to offer. It’s also important to consistently check the privacy settings on your apps and social media platforms as they are subject to change over time.
Knowing what information you share with the public is just one more way to minimize your risk of identity theft. It is also important that you monitor your personal information to be aware if it is being fraudulently used by criminals. Reviewing your credit report regularly is one recommended way to check for unauthorized use of your data. However, if you have the financial means, you also should consider purchasing identity theft protection from a reputable provider who may have tools to help you monitor more of your information than you would be able to by yourself and offer additional features to further strengthen your protection.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.