People with Public Social Media Profiles May Have Greater Chance of Identity Fraud
A recent study from Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that five percent of the adult population in the United States experienced identity fraud in 2011, but the incidence rate of identity fraud among Facebook users with public profiles was 50 percent higher.
According to the Javelin study, identity fraud increased overall in 2011 affecting five percent of the adult population in the United States, compared to four percent in 2010. This growth in identity fraud can be attributed to the large number of data breaches and growth in smartphone ownership, but this recent study also finds some correlation between identity fraud and certain behaviors with using social networking sites. The study estimates that of the general U.S. adult population the incidence of identity fraud was five percent in 2011, but among Facebook users with public profiles the incidence rate was 7.5 percent, and among Facebook users who accept friend requests from strangers it was nearly 9 percent.
In the study a respondent was considered to have a public Facebook profile if their personal profile information was either viewable to everyone or to “friends of friends.” By this definition the study found that about 25 percent of Facebook users have public profiles. Because profiles often contain personal information, such as birth dates and phone numbers, fraudsters search public profiles to find information that can be used for identity fraud. This may be to find new potential victims or to supplement partial identity information the fraudster has already obtained. Fraudsters also create fake profiles on social networking sites for the sole purpose of harvesting personal information, and then use this information to get around authentication screening such as security questions and out-of-wallet checks.
Much of the information social media users put in their profiles can be used by fraudsters to steal an identity or takeover an account. The Javelin study found that 68 percent of Facebook users with public profiles list their birth month and date while 45 percent provide their birth month, date and year. Although it makes for a poor password, many consumers use their birthday as a password or PIN. Other information that can be used to try to crack a password or even pass a security question include the name of someone’s high school, which is listed on 63 percent of public Facebook profiles, and a pet’s name, provided on 12 percent of public Facebook profiles. Additionally, 55 percent of respondents with public profiles list their email address, 18 percent provide their phone number, and 3 percent even provider their mother’s maiden name. Taking all of this into consideration it seems reasonable that Facebook users with public profiles and those who accept friend requests from strangers had higher incidence rates of identity fraud than the general U.S. population overall.
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