Social Media Increases Risk of ID Theft

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but a new study from Javelin Strategy & Research confirms that social media puts users at increased risk of identity theft, which Javelin finds is increasing -- at least in the number of people affected.

A total of 11.6 million U.S. adults were victims of identity fraud in 2011, up 13% from 10.2 million in 2010, according to Javelin, which conducted an address-based survey of 5,022 U.S. adults in October 2011; Javelin also draws on identity fraud data from Fiserv, Intersections Inc. and Wells Fargo & Company.

The 2011 figure reverses a 28% decline in the number of victims of ID fraud from 2009-2010. Meanwhile, the amount of money stolen remained even at around $37 billion per year in 2010 and 2011. Indeed, the long-term trend line is positive, at least in terms of the amount stolen: the dollar volume of identity fraud is down by almost half from its peak of $70 billion in 2004.  

The good news is that the sums stolen (through all manner of identity fraud) are decreasing -- but the risk of ID fraud posed by social media specifically appears to be increasing.

Javelin said it identified certain social and mobile behaviors that had higher incidence rates of fraud than for average consumers. On this note, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and Facebook users were found to have the highest incidence of fraud, although Javelin emphasized there is no proof of direct causation. Nonetheless, it seems likely that there is a causal connection, considering that the information shared by many social media users is exactly what fraudsters are looking for.

Thus Javelin found that 68% of people with public social media profiles shared their birthday information, with 45% sharing the month, date and year. 63% shared the name of their high school. Meanwhile 18% shared their phone number, and 12% shared their pet's name -- all of which Javelin says are popular categories of personal information used by companies to verify identity.

Interestingly, Javelin also found that smartphone owners also experience a higher incidence of fraud -- with 7% experiencing ID fraud, about one-third higher than the general public. And social media users who check in with GPS-enabled devices reported fraud rates that were about twice the average.

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