Social media is open door for thieves, lenders

By Marianne Curphey

For many of us, logging on to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ is a daily routine, and documenting every aspect of our lives has become commonplace. But it may be time to break the habit in order to protect your credit.

Social media sites hold a wealth of information that can aid identity thieves. What's more, lenders, like employers, may be checking your profile before deciding to give you a loan or credit card.social-media

Fraudsters want to friend you
"Around 8% of UK adults have been a victim of ID theft at some stage," says Martin Warwick, principal consultant with FICO, a global analytics company. "On Facebook, 60% of men and 40% of women agree to be friends with someone based solely on their photo -- that is an easy way in for a fraudster."

All an identity thief has to do is take a photo of someone you are already friends with and build a profile with their information. They can then ask to friend you on Facebook, perhaps with a message that says, "I deleted my old profile, this is my new one," -- and you just might believe it.

Once the scammer is your Facebook friend, he has access to your likes, dislikes, beliefs, birthday, kids' birthdays and a slew of other facts. Those are great starting points for guessing your passwords for any online account. They may even clue the fraudster in to answers for your "security questions" and allow him to reset your passwords. The scammer also has the option to message you under the friend or family member's name and ask personal questions.

Leave your geolocation feature on in your device, and you've given away even more information. Geolocation is often turned on by default, and within social media it means all your posts show exactly where you are. When you post away from home, thieves may take the opportunity to let themselves into your home or use your credit card in an unusual location without suspicion from your bank.

"There is a huge security problem," says Ian Hughes, CEO of Consumer Intelligence, an independent research agency that specialises in providing customer and competitor insight.  "If I broadcast where I am then I am also broadcasting where I am not -- like at home!"

Even if you don't broadcast where you are through your settings, posting plans before you leave or photos before you get home is dangerous.

"If you share holiday plans or photos then it is clear that you are away from home," says Warwick.

Lenders can check you out, too
According to a release by US-based PersonalLoanOffers.com, there is increasing lender interest in mining data from social media sites.

"[Information on social media] already has been said to affect your acceptability for work and university places. It won't be too long before people find statistical correlations between social media usage patterns and ‘risk,'" Hughes says. It has the possibility to become as important as your credit score for companies such as credit card and mortgage providers who want to assess your suitability.

Although these types of alternative credit scoring metrics may help improve the chances of qualified consumers who otherwise would have been denied approval, they may not benefit consumers in the long term.

After all, people embellish their activities and adventures on social networking sites to make themselves seem more popular and their lives more exciting.

"Social content on sites like Facebook are a user created representation, a sculpted personae, and our belief is attempting to make lending decisions based on criteria such as likes, shared financial behaviour and other data mined from social networks will be dangerously misrepresentative for legitimate lenders to act upon," a spokesman for PersonalLoalOffers.com said in a written statement.

Apathy toward publicly-accessible information
Of course, you can take action against identity thieves and lenders if you change your security settings to allow only certain people -- or no one -- to see certain information. That may not stop sites like Facebook from seeing it - the company is being sued for mining and using data contained in private messages. But it will keep the shielded information away from the general public.

And if you do take a vacation, just wait until you get home to share your photos and stories (as a bonus, maybe you'll enjoy that vacation more if you aren't on social media the whole time).

Surveys show Britons are not overly concerned about data privacy. In research by LoveMyVouchers.co.uk, 58% of the people surveyed said they are unconcerned about Facebook scanning their private messages, and 77% said they are not likely to alter their privacy settings within the next six months. More than two-thirds said the settings were too complicated to understand. And 85% said they won't stop using Facebook due to privacy issues.

Experts say Brits may have a false sense of security about their data. "All digital information is open, by definition," says Hughes. "In this country, we don't worry about civil liberties, but the truth is that the NSA and MI5 are probably reading this.  Google is not a free service, neither is Facebook ... you pay for them with information."

See related: Why you shouldn't lie on a credit application, Why you should never reuse credit card PINs

Updated: 7 June 2017