Today is officially Data Privacy Day, designed to highlight steps we can all take to ensure that we are protecting our identity, our personal data, and our money.

The Federal Trade Commission this week revealed that fraud initiated on social media alone cost consumers around $770M last year – and identity theft can create problems that affect you for years.

This highlights the need to be extremely careful when adding friends, and in particular, being suspicious of private messages asking for money. In general, the more urgent the message appears, the more cautious you should be.

More than 95,000 people reported about $770 million in losses to fraud initiated on social media platforms in 2021. Those losses account for about 25% of all reported losses to fraud in 2021 and represent a stunning eighteen-fold increase over 2017 reported losses. Reports are up for every age group, but people 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely as older adults to report losing money to these scams in 2021.

For scammers, there’s a lot to like about social media. It’s a low-cost way to reach billions of people from anywhere in the world. It’s easy to manufacture a fake persona, or scammers can hack into an existing profile to get “friends” to con. There’s the ability to fine-tune their approach by studying the personal details people share on social media.

CNET put together a good checklist:

Set good passwords. Long, random, and unique passwords are best. Don’t be tempted to recycle an old one, even if it’s great. Need help? Get a password manager.

Turn on two-factor authentication. This technique requires entering a second identifier — like a biometric, app notification or a physical key — in addition to your password. This will go a long way toward protecting you if your password gets compromised. 

Note: Avoid using SMS messages. Why? SIM swapping, in which cybercriminals steal your phone number by calling your wireless provider and having it switch your number to a new phone and SIM card. It does happen, and if criminals take over your phone number, they’ll get that text message, too.

Keep an eye on your accounts. Monitor your bank and credit accounts for potentially fraudulent charges. If you don’t expect to be applying for credit anytime soon, freeze your credit reports

Lock down your social media accounts. Make sure the only “friends” you’re sharing your information with are your actual friends. Even then, be careful what you disclose, especially when it comes to social media quizzes and other games. Seemly innocuous bits of information like the make and model of your first car or the elementary school you attended could be used to hack your passwords down the road, because those facts are often used in security checks.

Audit your logins and apps. Using Facebook or Google to automatically log in to your apps and websites gives them access to more of your data. Think twice before you do it. Not using an app anymore? Delete it and take away its access to the data you agreed to share when you first downloaded it.

Update everything. This doesn’t just apply to your operating systems and antivirus software. Your router, apps and all of those “internet of things” devices also need to be up to date. Patches to fix bugs and security problems can’t help you if you don’t install them. If you don’t know how to update your router, call your ISP or check online.

A couple of other important things. First, never open attachments you aren’t expecting, even if they appear to come from someone you know. Second, never click on a link in an email if it then asks you to log in to one of your accounts. Always use your own bookmarks, or type the URL into your browser.

Data Privacy Day is also a good time to ensure your less techy friends are aware of these precautions.

Photo: Victoria Heath/Unsplash

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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