Pam Coyleby Pam Coyle

When I set up my Facebook profile four or five years ago I did not fill in the fields for birthday. Vanity was my initial defense. Most of my life I’ve been told I looked younger than my years and I wanted to keep folks guessing.

I ignore requests for my birthday from well-meaning Facebook friends. Yes, I could simply disclose the month and day and skip the year. Still, I resist.

Turns out I may have preserved more than the illusion of youth. I may have unwittingly erected a defense against identity theft.

A report released by Javelin Strategy & Research in 2012 found consumers’ social media and mobile device behaviors may be putting them at greater risk for fraud, especially identity theft.

Date of birth, high school attended and names of pets are used frequently to authenticate a consumer’s identity. Toss in the right Social Security number and a fraudster is off to the races, or an online electronics shopping spree or the Mexican Riviera for an all-inclusive trip to the beach on your dime.

Javelin found LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and Facebook users had the highest incidence of fraud – though the study did not proof direct causation, more a correlation. Among people with public social media profiles:

  • 68 percent shared their birthday information (with 45 percent sharing month, date and year)
  • 63 percent shared their high school name
  • 18 percent shared their phone number
  • 12 percent shared their pet’s name

A little discretion may go a long way.

Smartphone users also need to develop new habits. The survey found 7 percent of smartphone owners were victims of identity fraud in 2011, a rate one-third higher than the general public. Risky behaviors include failure to update to a new operating system when it becomes available, not using a password on the home screen and saving login information on the device.

Convenience should not trump common sense. This applies to the paper world as well as the online one.

The old ways still provide identity thieves plenty of victims: They steal credit card payments and other outgoing mail from mailboxes outside your home; they dig through garbage cans or dumpsters looking for cancelled checks, account statements and pre-approved credit card offers; they file a change of address form in the victim’s name to divert mail and gather personal and financial data.

Shred your paper trash or at least rip it up. Put snail mail in a blue box owned by the U.S. Postal Service, take it to the office for pickup there or drop it off at the post office. Check your credit reports at least once a year. Don’t give out your Social Security number.

See what the experts are saying about identity theft.