CHICAGO (CBS) — You may lock your profile on Facebook and share your email address with a select few, but so much information is available online from so many sources that identity thieves can still target you.
Information you can’t hide could lead straight to your Social Security number, CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports.
Most know the posts and pictures we share online are anything but private. When CBS 2 asked customers at a coffee bar filled with laptop users to check out their own electronic footprint, they were surprised to find photos of their homes and even letters they wrote to government agencies they never knew were public.
The information came with a simple GOOGLE search of their names.
Security experts warn even the most innocent online information can allow thieves to steal your identity. It only takes an email and Social Security number.
“Anything that helps me impersonate you, that personalizes my picture of who you are, is potentially very useful,” says Prof. Steve Jones of the University of Illinois-Chicago Communications Department.
Two security experts started with a name and then clicked through to professional and social media sites connected to that person. The websites revealed the person’s name, family members, place of employment that the subject willingly posted.
That led the experts to detailed information the subject never posted: pictures of his home, tax records and charitable donations.
Jones said that lets identity thieves build a profile of who might have financial information about someone.
Identity thieves can contact your banks, doctors, and churches with enough valid answers to security questions that may cause them to release your financial and medical information on file.
Michael Fertik, an Internet security expert and CEO of Reputation.Com, won’t reveal exactly how he did it, but he was able to find the subject’s social security number. He would only say that the entire number wasn’t listed on one site, but by comparing several sites he was able to piece together the entire number.
For a fee, his firm will monitor when your name and contact information pops up on line. You can then do follow-up work to have it removed.
But security experts say there’s not much more we can do besides sharing as little information as possible and be aware.