Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest—Social media is a great way to stay connected while sharing news and ideas. But if you’re not careful, you can end up doing serious harm to your good name.
Most users know that there are just certain things to avoid posting on social media, such as compromising photos, your Social Security number, and your bank account number. But there are a lot of other things that can come back to haunt you if they fall into the wrong hands.
Once you understand the differences among social media sites and you’re certain your privacy settings are as secure as they should be, there are still some major no-nos when it comes to sharing:
- Details about your kids—It sounds like a no-brainer that we safeguard our young children online, but far too many people forget to protect their kids’ privacy once they’re old enough to have Facebook accounts of their own. Case in point? Any kind of picture or information that gives a criminal more details about your teen’s identity. The ever popular “stay off the roads, my sweetie got her driver’s license today!” post—complete with a photo of the “sweetie” holding her license up for the camera—just gave a wealth of information to an identity thief.
- The birthday post—Combined with another common social media flub—using your maiden name so that your childhood friends can find you—the ever popular birthday post says something like, “I can’t believe it’s been eight years since this little guy came into my life!” Your friends post their warm wishes and their congratulations, while an identity thief connects the dots. The thief now has your child’s complete birthdate and mother’s maiden name, two crucial pieces of the identity theft puzzle. Your child just got a new car or a credit card for his birthday, only he won’t find out about it until he applies for college, a job, or a car of his own.
- Work-related posts—People like to announce promotions at work or that the job hunt has finally paid off, but anything more detailed than that is asking for trouble. It should go without saying that actually complaining about your job on social media is dangerous ground. You can’t know which of your connections is connected to your boss. This post might seem harmless, but can come back to bite you if your boss or co-workers find out: “It’s wine o’clock, and after the day I had…missed a deadline, didn’t get the report back that I needed…I’ve totally earned it.”
- Commercialism posts—People love to share news of their purchases, whether it’s new clothes they’ve bought, jewelry they’ve splurged on, meals in restaurants, or an upcoming vacation. Unless there’s some compelling reason for your social media contacts to know about these purchases, you’ve taken a great risk by showing someone online how much you might be worth…or more accurately, how much the goods in your house might be worth. While some consider it tacky to flaunt your money, thieves will thank you for it.
- Incriminating posts—Incriminating posts should go without saying—don’t!—but too many people aren’t aware of what constitutes a negative or slanderous post. The viral “restaurant receipt without tip” photo posts have caused problems for both employees and patrons. Some other posts that can come back to haunt you include “revenge” posts against an ex, rants about your child’s school or teacher, less-than-polite reviews of a company or place of business, and more. Even negative posts about targets that are usually considered “fair game,” like politicians or celebrities, can lead to consequences in your personal life or your professional life.
Remember, the purpose of social media is that it’s “social,” which means “shareable.” Keep your content innocuous and public-worthy, and protect yourself by living by an important online adage: nothing online is ever private, or ever deleted.
Eva Velasquez is president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.