This past week my identity was stolen. What that means is some douche bag was pretending to be me, and in the process stole a significant amount of money from my bank account. Along with the sheer panic of losing every dollar I had, I learned none of my money or personal information was safe. None of it.
It’s not like I have the type of credit which would allow someone to travel the world on my dime, or take out a personal loan to finance a yacht. I live pay cheque to pay cheque as do most of us. Stealing my identity and my money left me flat broke. With nothing. To be fair, the thieves did leave me with a whopping dollar sixty-three in my bank account, not that I could get access to it or any of my credit.
Once I had called the bank ( fifteen times in one hour ), everything I owned was shut down. Including any credit cards or credit, I or anyone could get access to. Done for my safety, to protect me from further pilfering. My hands were tied. Frustration and the reality I would not be able to get access to any money brought me to tears.
Emotionally, I was distraught. Being that it was a long weekend and the bank and their employees deserve a vacation as much as I, I was unable to speak with anyone about my predicament. It took two days and stubborn persistence to finally speak to someone in the security department at my bank. Wherewith I was put on hold a multitude of times and for hours at a time. Finally, I spoke to an astounding and considerate woman named Katherine.
If you can imagine, by this time my frustration with the situation was at its boiling point. My anger got the best of me. Needless to say, she was more than accommodating and reassured me none of this was my fault. However, I would not see my money before five to ten business days. Following an impending investigation. Relieved that my money would be reinstated to my account, I began to let go of my anger. At least I knew I would eventually see my money again.
Katherine and I spoke for aver an hour that day, and what I learned about identity theft was jaw-dropping, to say the least. However what I learned about being a blogger and the commonality of public personas on social media attached to identity theft was mind-blowing and extremely scary.
I have always prided myself on being open and honest on social media as well as my blog. I do not have a pseudonym when I write and am proud to post pictures of my family and friends on every one of my social media accounts. I am an over-sharer. As are many of us, not just bloggers or account admins. Perhaps I am late to board the privacy train when it comes to social media, but I truly believed being my authentic self, was a good thing. Yet, I was targeted because of my authenticity.
I was prey to identity theft because my life was easy to obtain. Every small detail of my life sits boldly for all to see (and access) on social media. Right down to the name of my dog and my favourite sports team. Hell, if someone dug deep enough, I am sure they could find my favourite colour and where I love to vacation. Not only are many of the details of my life written all over the interweb, those details are attached to my family and friends.
As Katherine and I spoke I realised how many mistakes I had made. Wherewith I became an easy mark for identity theft. Not only because I am a blogger but because of my social media presence.
I feel the need to share my experience because I don’t want anyone else to go through the hell that is identity theft. I don’t want to watch my friends, family or other bloggers go through the pains of dealing with rearranging their lives to be safe online. Or undergo attempting to recover money taken from them.
I don’t want to scare anyone but the truth is anyone on social media is at a greater risk of having their identity stolen. Blogging heightens this risk as most bloggers share personal accounts of their lives. Sharing pictures of family and friends is normal practice. Tagging your parents in a loving Mother’s Day or Father’s Day post is a delightful way of bestowing your love. Sharing a picture of your dog as you are walking it down the street near your house is something we see daily on social media. Nonetheless, it comes with the risk of giving thieves an opportunity to steal your life.
As a blogger, I often write personal descriptions of my life. I share them on my website and social media. I speak of my parents and children, as well as friends and family. I tag people I love in posts and often share pictures of my dinner or where I am eating it. I use hashtags to describe what I love and despise meanwhile giving personal details to anyone who sees my posts. Tiny portions of my life which at the time may seem insignificant become clues to every password I may have online.
For example, on Facebook, I have my family members listed. Anyone who may be curious enough to find out who my Mother is can either look up my family members or scroll through posts I have tagged her in.
One of the most popular security questions for online banking or tax purposes is: “What is your Mother’s maiden name?” In my world, my Mother’s maiden name is listed right on her profile. Boom, question number one, answered and easily stolen by hackers.
Not only did I have all my family members attached to my profile, I also had pictures of my dog plastered on my wall. I even gave him a hashtag. Just another popular question used for online security answered. “What is your favourite pet’s name?”
Like many others, I answered these online security questions with real answers.
“What street did you grow up on?” Scroll my Facebook profile and you may find a childhood friend who had written on my wall regarding all the fun we had in the old neighbourhood. “Remember when we used to ride our bikes up and down ____ street?” Another question answered.
“What year was your father born?” Just look on his Facebook, I have him tagged in a birthday post stating it was his sixty-seventh birthday. Do the math.
“Who is your favourite baseball player?” It is with great passion I have written about this one on many people’s social media walls, including a blog post.
“What time was your first child born?” I answered this one for all the world to see when I wished him a Happy Birthday on Facebook. Stating the exact time he came into the world and changed my life forever.
In the wrong hands, these questions I use to open my private accounts became the answers to stealing my identity. Without realising it and by doing what so many people do, I gave away my personal passwords or answers to the questions in which are used to keep me safe online.
What I have learned is I don’t have to stop sharing my life. None of us does. We should not be afraid to be open about our lives on social media. But we need to be aware there are people out there who are learning how to hack into our lives by reading our every thought. And we are giving it to them one post at a time.
How do we share and preserve our online security so it is powerful enough to stop this? I asked that same question. What am I supposed to do to feel safe in an ever-changing online world?
The answer is quite simple. DO NOT use personal or real answers in ANY online security questions. Apply random answers in which are much harder to guess by hackers. Change your passwords often and if necessary write them down and keep them in a safe place in your home. The possibility of having your home broken into and having your passwords stolen from a hidden book is significantly less than being hacked online.
The online world is changing so fast it is hard to feel safe from hackers. I definitely felt violated having my identity stolen. Simply knowing someone perused my social media to such a depth made my skin crawl. Knowing how to protect my accounts and me from this ever happening again, priceless.