Mark Bauman is a serial entrepreneur in the online advertising, ad blocking, ad block circumvention and copyright protection space, including FaceChex --
Imagine, after going on a beach vacation and posting photos about it on social media, someone tells you your pictures ended up on an escort site. This is what happened to Miss Universe Guam, a client of ours who recently discovered that her modeling photos were exploited on an escort site. This stands out as a gross violation of her privacy, but a cursory glance on social media reveals that she’s not alone.
In less than an hour, my company, which specializes in identity theft protection, was able to find over 50 fake profiles misusing photos of other Miss Universe contestants, pretending to be them. This includes the president of Miss Universe, Paula Shugart, who had two fake profiles. These fake profiles not only create confusion but are a serious form of online identity theft.
And it’s not just public figures being impersonated online. A Russian company, the Internet Research Agency, was discovered to have made fake accounts using pictures stolen from the Facebook profiles of people worldwide. One Brazilian father was shocked to realize that his profile image had been copied and used to create a vehicle for Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
With so many people trying to steal identities online, it may seem impossible to stop them. There are, however, steps that you can take to protect yourself and those in your online social circles from these predators.
Vet Your Social Circle
This is by far the most important step in protecting yourself and those in your social circle from online identity theft. If you aren’t careful about who you allow in your circle, you will still be vulnerable even if you follow the other tips listed below.
Facebook’s own research estimates that as many as 270 million of its users are fake. Are any of these fake profiles hiding in your Facebook friends list? Make sure that you know each of your friends personally — do not accept requests from people you do not know, even if you have multiple mutual friends. Hackers thrive when they are able to infiltrate an online community, build credibility through their connections to other users and use that perceived credibility to take over your account.
Do Not Give Out Personal Information
By now, most people have come to understand the danger of posting anything on social media that obviously compromises their identity, such as posting photos of their passport or driver’s license. However, people still give out potentially compromising personal information every day without knowing it.
Answering questionnaires can make you vulnerable to hackers because they often mix fun questions with some that would give away the answer to your security questions. Once a hacker knows information, such as the street you grew up on or your first girlfriend’s name, they can access your account by resetting your password. Once they have taken over your account, all of the people in your social circle are at risk of catfishing and online identity theft.
Improve And Don’t Reuse Passwords
Keeping up with all of the passwords for every account can be exhausting, and many people resort to using simple words that are easy for them to remember. As easy as these words or phrases are for you to remember, it is just as easy for hackers to break into them using password-guessing software.
Choose a string of upper and lowercase letters, including numbers and symbols. A random password generator can help with the creation of this. Once you have a strong password, it is also tempting to reuse this password so that you don’t have to remember too many of them. Reusing passwords is dangerous because if any of your account passwords are compromised, hackers will be able to get into your other accounts with ease. There are services that manage all of your passwords and allow you to use one secured sign in username and password to access all of your accounts, like LastPass and 1Password.
Update Your Privacy Settings
Fake profiles can easily be created by saving public photos and uploading them as one's own. Any photos that are shared publicly are vulnerable to this type of theft. Make sure that all of your social media accounts are set to a privacy setting that only shares your content with people you have accepted as friends.
This is also why it is so important to personally know every person on your friend's list. These accounts have access to all of the content that you post. If any of these accounts are compromised or operated by people with ill intentions, you are at risk of online identity theft even if your profile is private.
Understand The Agreements You Enter Online
Online games are very popular on platforms such as Facebook, but often these games require users to accept certain permissions to play them that put people at high risk of online identity theft. Apps often ask for basic information that helps them perform better for users, but any app asking for access to your personal messages, friends list, or to post on your behalf opens you and your network up to a wide range of risks. The list of permissions you are agreeing to for these apps is often short and easy to read in full. Make sure you take advantage of this and fully understand what that app is asking to see or do.
Make sure you are taking all of these steps to protect yourself online. They are vital to protecting your online identity as well as the online safety of those in your social network. Sharing these tips with those in your social circle will also help protect you by making sure that they are not the victims of identity theft.
If you do find yourself a victim of identity theft, there are tools out there to rectify the situation within 72 hours.