Social media and identity theft: What you need to know

During the advent of the Internet, as information became plentiful and accessible to anybody with a dial-up connection, we all still lived basically “invisible” lives – the way we as a species had done since the dawn of time.  A few ambitious individuals figured out a way to build websites so they could share with like-connected friends and family what they’ve been up to.

Skip ahead a few years, and now the majority of living humans in progressive countries have presences on the Web.  You don’t need to make your own website anymore.  All you have to do is land on one of the numerous social media platforms, and viola, everybody and their dogs can know whatever you want to tell them.

And that’s where trouble arises.

Identity theft vs. other kinds of theft

Identity theft is big business.  Look at this startling statistic from

In 2012, victims of identity theft suffered losses in excess of $24.7 billion – $10 billion more than what consumers lost in the same year to burglary, vehicle theft and other types of theft combined.

Identity thieves don’t need a whole lot to begin the process of getting hold of someone’s sensitive information.  Mainly all they need to know is that you exist.  And what better way to know who exists than with platforms like Facebook, where everybody is a star, everybody has something to say, everybody can feel important, even if it’s just imaginary.

Dumb kid’s mom on YouTube

The damage an identity thief can do, however, is anything but imaginary.  One case was talked about on a YouTube video by the victim’s mother.  The video was posted in 2010, so it’s likely the incident happened around then.

In a nutshell, the woman’s teenage son had a Facebook page, and from it he downloaded and played video games.  For one of the games, he was offered a really cool deal: He could get extra points just for filling out a car loan application!  Well, the kid obviously needed points, because he filled out seven applications, complete with his social security number and other pertinent information.

Einstein never imagined he could wind up in trouble.  He never thought for a second about giving this kind of information to an online gaming entity – which we all know are among the most honest, upstanding and respected entities on the Internet (rolling eyes).

Well, Mom found out about it when a local car dealer called to ask questions about a loan application they’d recently received in the name of the son.

The kid’s name isn’t revealed in the video, but I can think of several good ones.  And I can think of a few good ones for Mom, too, for not training the kid better  In this day and age of rampant online identity theft, it’s the peak of stupidity to EVER share your social security number with ANYBODY for ANY reason.

Identity thieves need only to know that you’re out there.  They’ve got a mile-long list of tricky methods to wrangle personal information out of you – like running a video game that trades points for car loan applications.  Once you’re contactable, you’re open to any number of scams.

Organizations that help people keep from being identity theft victims through social media offer plenty of tips, including: 

  • Never reveal your social security or driver’s license numbers
  • Create original names and complicated passwords for each of your social media pages
  • Never give out your user name and password to anybody
  • Don’t reveal your date of birth or the city in which you live
  • Don’t list the high school or college you attended
  • Invite only people you know to join your network – never a friend of a friend or someone who approaches you out of the blue
  • Google your real name regularly and check your credit report often

It’s too bad we have to go to such lengths to protect ourselves as we play on social media.  But a little thought and time invested is a lot less of a bother than finding out you just applied for a car loan.

Here’s the video about the kid, if you want to watch it.

Nick & Ellie