4 simple ways to avoid identity theft on social media

Social media hacks are on the rise. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your data safe.
9 min read
Social media sites require your personal information to operate—but sharing your private data puts you at risk of identity theft. A staggering 12% of internet users in the EU have experienced online fraud, with nearly one in ten falling victim to identity theft. And, as 59% of people don’t feel well-informed about the risks of cybercrime, there’s a growing need for a greater understanding of how to stay safe online. Here’s what you can do to prevent yourself from being the victim of identity theft on social media.

Why does identity theft happen on social media?

Identity theft on social media happens for multiple reasons and can affect anyone. As long as you have a social media profile, you can be targeted. But, to understand how to protect yourself from identity theft on social media, you have to understand why it happens in the first place. Here are three reasons why social media is used to conduct identity theft. 

1. We trust what’s familiar

Social media is often the last thing we look at before going to sleep and the first thing we look at when we wake up. This makes it as familiar as brushing our teeth. As we tend to trust what’s familiar, social media is often perceived as a safe space that we share with our loved ones—and the odd cat influencer. However, this sense of false security can result in overlooking some glaring red flags—making us an easy target for cybercriminals. 

2. There’s 20% more malware on social media

Social media sites are much less able to protect themselves against malware. According to a report by Bromium, there are around 20% more methods to spread malware on social media platforms than on normal websites. Thanks to social media users being embedded in large networks, this malware is then easily spread to thousands of users with just a few clicks.

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3. Social media crime is lucrative

Identity theft on social media is lucrative. With revenues made from social media cyber crime increasing by 60% since 2017 and amounting to a cool $3.25 billion on average globally, it’s an attractive prospect for criminals. Coupled with the lack of awareness surrounding cybercrime more generally and we have a recipe for millions of social media identity thefts each year. 

How does identity theft happen on social media?

Criminal fraudsters have multiple smart techniques when it comes to stealing identities via social media. Plus, with 3.6 billion people using social media in 2020, which is set to increase to 4.41 in 2025, there’s a large captive audience for criminals to target. Here are the different types of identity theft and fraud on social media.

Fake social media accounts

Playing on our trusting natures, many cybercriminals create fake Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to impersonate existing people. All they need is a couple of photos of their victim and their name to create an account. Once up and running, they can start sending friend requests to their target’s network. From here, they can message people in this network, pretending to be their victim and asking for money, perhaps as a donation to a fake charity. It can sometimes take weeks, or even months, for an individual to realize they’ve been the victim of such an attack—and often after their loved ones have transferred the fraudster some cash.

Malicious online quizzes

What might seem like a harmless quiz revealing which ‘90s sitcom character you most resemble can actually be a cybercriminal attempting to steal your identity. Online quizzes often do the rounds on social media as they’re fun—especially when shared with friends. However, to enter them, you sometimes have to accept pages of small print. In the excitement of wanting to know whether you’re more of a Carrie Bradshaw or a Chandler Bing, this is often done without a second thought. However, hiding in this small print, are often clauses that allow the quiz to sell your data to third parties. And this doesn’t just affect you. It can sometimes mean that the quiz developers can also obtain data from your friends.

Fake ads

We’re all used to being bombarded with ads on social media, but did you know that some cybercriminals create fake ads to try to get you to part with your money? Once they’ve set up a fraudulent company or brand account, these cyber scammers can create fake ads showing a product or service they’re not actually selling. When clicking on it, you may be directed to a fake landing page where, if you want to purchase this product, you enter your name, credit card details, and address. Unfortunately, this data can then be used to either take money directly out of your account or it’s sold on to other criminals for a significant profit. These criminals can then assume your identity to do some of the following:
  • Take out loans in your name
  • Take over your bank account
  • Apply for tax refunds
  • Claim unemployment benefits

What information can be stolen from your social media profile?

Often, just to set up a social media account, you need to enter your name, date of birth, hometown, and phone number. All of this information can be readily stolen if it’s made public. However, social media platforms differ with regard to how much private information can be shared. While Facebook allows you to share your birthday, likes, interests, relationships status, educational and professional histories, phone number, and where you live, Twitter restricts what you can share to your date of birth and location. Essentially, whatever personal information you make public on social media can be stolen, so think carefully about what you choose to share.

How to protect yourself from identity theft on social media

While the prospect of identity theft on social media can seem daunting, there’s a lot you can do to safeguard yourself against it. Browse through the following list to make sure your identity remains safe from cybercriminals. Most of the steps only take a few seconds to complete and could save you a lot of financial anxiety in the long run!

1. Use unique passwords

It can be tempting to use the same password for multiple social media accounts, but each time you do so, you increase your vulnerability to a password hack. Why? Because once a hacker manages to hack one of your accounts, they’ve essentially hacked into them all. Instead, make it a habit to have different passwords for each of the social media platforms you use. Use a unique set of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and character symbols and remember, the longer the password, the better.  Also, be careful to avoid using any words related to your birthday, your partner, pets, or current and previous addresses. Many people use this information in their passwords as it makes them easier to remember—but as this information is often quite easy for criminals to access, it also makes them easier to hack. 

2. Update your privacy settings 

If your social media profiles are set to public, cybercriminals can easily access a great deal of your personal information. Instead, consider making your profiles private so that only those who follow you can see your profile. Make sure you do the same for your posts too. Sometimes, your posting settings can be set to public without you realizing it. This means that each time you publish a post, anyone can view it—so be sure to check your sharing settings. Also, consider sharing less information about yourself in general on these sites. The less data you share, the safer your data is!

3. Log out 

Particularly relevant when accessing social media via a public computer or a shared device, by not logging out at the end of a session, you leave your account vulnerable to attack. Anyone who uses the device after you has instantaneous access to all of your information including all of your private messages, so be sure to log out before you leave!

4. Check for fake profiles using your name

To make sure you’ve not been the victim of identity theft on social media, regularly check if there are any other accounts using your name and photos to pose as you. Likewise, if you get a friend request from someone you thought you were already connected with, or from someone who looks like a friend, but doesn’t sound like them, do a bit of research. This means reaching out to them via other social platforms and possibly contacting mutual friends to verify whether the account is legitimate.

What to do if you’re the victim of identity theft on social media

If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft on social media, don’t worry, there are many support systems in place to help you. Of course, these vary depending on the social media platform that’s been compromised. Below you can find exactly where to report identity theft on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Linkedin.

How to report ID theft on Facebook

If you think a fake Facebook account is pretending to be either you or someone you know, report it here.

How to report ID theft on Instagram

If you believe a fake Instagram account has been created either pretending to be you, a friend, your child, or your business, report it here.

How to report ID theft on Twitter

If you discover a fake Twitter account, you can report it either directly on the fake profile, or you can file an impersonation report. You can find out how to do both here.

How to report ID theft on Snapchat

To report identity theft or to flag a case of harassment or bullying on Snapchat, report it here.

How to report ID theft on LinkedIn

To report a case of identity theft on Linkedin, follow this link.

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