Your Online Profile May Help Identity Thieves


In her Washington Post/Bloomberg column, Michelle Singletary cites a study about identity theft, saying that most thieves can be traced to social networking sites. Crooks use social networking as a tool to garner personal information, including birthdays and pet names, to infiltrate passwords.


We’ve become a society that shares too much of our personal information — and all that voluntary transparency makes us vulnerable to crooks.

When companies fail to protect our privacy, we are rightfully upset. Javelin Strategy & Research, in its latest report about identity theft, says that about 36 million people were notified of a data breach in 2011. Having your information lost or stolen during a breach doesn’t automatically mean you will be a victim of identity theft, but it certainly greatly increases the odds.

Those who suffer data breaches are 9.5 times more likely to be victims of identity fraud than are other consumers, according to Javelin.

Last year, identity fraud increased 13 percent, affecting more than 11.6 million adults. Using stolen Social Security numbers or credit cards and other financial information, identity thieves buy cars, get cellphones and open new credit card accounts.

This is the ninth year of Javelin’s examination of identity fraud, and for the first time the research firm looked at social media and mobile phone behavior. Javelin found that people are making it easier for identity thieves to piece together the information needed to steal their good credit name because, as my grandmother Big Mama would say, “You’re telling too much of your business.”

People using LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and Facebook had the highest incidence of fraud, the company said. Javelin found that 68 percent of people with public social-media profiles shared their birthday information (with 45 percent revealing the month, day and year); 63 percent shared the name of their high school; 18 percent shared their phone number; and 12 percent shared the name of their pet.


Read Michelle Singletary's entire column at Washington Post/Bloomberg.