You Should Be More Concerned About Online Security Risks
When it comes to security risks, social media is today's number one contender. We all know it, though we possess varying degrees of opinions on the topic. We also display a wide gap on the spectrum of concern we hold over it.
I am a private investigator, so I’m sure you can guess that my concern is higher than most, simply because I am more aware of the risks than the average user.
As a private investigator, I feel like I am constantly warning my family, friends, clients, and anyone else who will listen about the security risks of social media profiles.
I specialize in social media investigations, so I obviously have social media accounts on several different networks. Although the best practice in keeping yourself safe is to exit social media altogether, I know this isn’t practical for most of us.
So instead of simply telling you to stay off of social media, I want to give you some advice that might save you from some real future heartache or something even more serious than that.
I’d like to try and convince you of the importance of locking down your online profiles by giving you a real case study that uncovers the kind of information that is probably out there on the inter webs about YOU right now.
A Real Case Study Using “Joe’s” Facebook Profile
Since Facebook currently has more users than any other social network, that’s the one I’ve chosen to explore in greater detail here.
I chose an unknown profile at random. I do not know this person or anything about him, other than what I discovered on his Facebook profile. Let’s call him Joe.
In the first ten minutes of scanning Joe’s public Facebook profile, here is what I discovered about him:
- Home address
- Name & address of high school
- First, middle, & last name of girlfriend, plus the place, address, & shift she works
- Photos of mom, dad, girlfriend, little sister, dog, best friend, & other friends/family
- First & last names for mom, dad, grandpa, sister, best friend, & other friends
- Photo of Joe’s car with the license plate number visible
- How long Joe & his girlfriend have been together, down to the exact day
- Favorite hangouts around town
- Favorite fishing spots & when I can typically find him at one of them
- Birthdays of Joe, his girlfriend, & many of his family/friends
- Joe’s little sister (who is 10) appears to come home to an empty house after school. I learned this when Joe posted that he was “so mad at my lil sis for breakin my bdrm window 2 get n after skool but then realized i was one who forgot to replace key last nite oops.. this is 3erd time in last month.” We also know there is a key hidden somewhere outside the residence.
- Sports Joe watches & his favorite teams, favorite movies & tv shows, typical breakfast foods, & music he listens to
- List of places Joe has checked into around town & how many times he’s checked in at each place
What Lax Online Security Could Mean for “Joe”
I could continue, but I think you get the picture. Who is Joe to me? Nobody. But who is Joe to others?
For the car thief, Joe has provided several public pictures of his white Mustang where the keys are always dangling from the ignition. I know where that Mustang is parked all day at the high school and all night at Joe’s home address.
For the burglar, I have seen several items of interest in the background of Joe’s pictures at home. I have his home address and know that the house is probably empty during weekdays while the parents are at work and the kids are at school.
For the identity thief who now has access to many first, last, and even some middle names, a license plate number, home address, birthdays, and other personal details.
For the sexual predator, I have so many alluring photos of Joe’s girlfriend, plus I know her full name, birthday, where she attends school, the name of her employer, a work address, and her shift schedule.
For the child predator, I know Joe’s little sister’s name and age. I have several photos of her already (thanks Joe). I know she typically comes home to an empty house after school. I also know there is a house key hidden somewhere outside at their home address. Oh, and I might possibly choose to lure her into a trap by using a ruse with her dog, whose name I also know. Or maybe I’ll just convince her to come with me after proving that I know her parents’ names, grandpa, brother, etc.
As you may well see, our social media profiles can easily put us at a heightened risk for all sorts of nefarious activities. But perhaps even more alarming is the risk we may be inadvertently placing on those around us, namely the most vulnerable like Joe’s 10-year-old sister.
Joe likely doesn’t place as much thought into safety precautions as some of us do. He is a young carefree male. He is not a parent. He has minimal responsibilities. His top priorities right now are his girlfriend and his car. Joe lives in a small town where his security has probably never been rocked before.
Steps You and “Joe” Can Take to Stay Safer Online
So what can you and Joe do to stay safer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others?
Choose the strictest privacy options for everything you possibly can. Don’t let just any John Doe peruse through photos of your family and friends. Don’t let strangers track your schedule by reading through your status updates. Don’t allow unknown people to map out every location where you decide to send a tweet.
This means you need to pretty well never share public information on your social media profiles. It’s just not a good idea. Ever.
Don’t accept connections with people you don’t know. That cute teenaged boy you think is interested in you from the next town over… he could be a 63-year-old convicted sex offender who is preying on area tweens.
Stop oversharing. Every time you post to an online profile, you should consider that it is being announced to the world. If you’re posting it, it's potentially public. Even if your privacy settings keep things locked up tight, you have zero control over your connections and what they could be doing with your information. THEY could be sharing everything with the world.
Be mindful of the details you are putting on your profile, even if it’s private. Don’t share your address on a post or in a comment. Keep personal identifiers to yourself like your social security number, cell phone number, birth date, etc. Stop checking in everywhere you go. Think about what you’re sharing about friends and family, especially children.
If you have children, please please PLEASE educate them on the risks, talk about it regularly, and stay educated yourself on what is out there and how it can be used to get to your kids.
Nobody, least of all me, wants to say “I told you so” when it comes to your safety and the safety of the ones you love.