Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert
Two words: you can’t. However, there are several things you can and should do in order to manage your social media identity, which may prevent social media identity theft. What exactly is social media identity theft? It’s a form of cybersquatting using social media sites.
If you’ve ever attempted to join a social media, more commonly known as a social networking site, or applied for an email account, and found that your first and last name were already taken, that may or may not have been social media identity theft, or cybersquatting.
There may be someone out there who shares your exact name and happened to register first, or else there is someone out there who took your name so that you can’t have it, or who wants to sell it back to you, or wants to pose as you and disrupt your life. These are all possibilities.
The most damaging possibility occurs when someone wants to pose as you in order to disrupt your life. This disruption can take on many forms. They may pose as you in order to harass and stalk you, or to harass and stalk people you know. Or they may steal your social media identity for financial gain. Throughout my years working in the field of financial crimes and identity theft, I’ve seen plenty of social media identity theft that led to financial loss. The thieves use a combination of email and social media to extract funds from others, or to open new accounts.
There are hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of social media sites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube), web-based email providers (hotmail.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com) and domain extensions (.com, .net, .biz). Then there are all the blog portals, such as WordPress and Blogspot. Even your local online newspaper has a place for user comments, and most people would want to register their own names before someone else comments on their behalf.
Social media websites offer the option to provide your real name as well as a user name. The user name may be a fun chat handle or an abbreviation of your real name. The key is to give your real name where requested and also to use your real name as your user name. Even if you don’t plan on spending any time on the site, or to use the domain or email, you want to establish control over it.
The goal is to obtain your real first and last name without periods, underscores, hyphens, abbreviations or extra numbers or letters. Your ideal name, for example would be twitter.com/RobertSiciliano, RobertSiciliano.com, orRobertSiciliano@anymail.com. This strategy won’t prevent someone else from registering with your name and adding a dot or a dash, but it trims down the options for a thief.
Some names are very common, or are also owned by someone famous. If that applies to your name, you can still take actions to manage your online reputation. If there is any uniqueness to your name or the spelling of your name, it’s still a good idea to claim your name in social media and work toward managing your online reputation.
Understand that your name is your brand. Your name is front and center on every document you sign and every website that shows up when your name is searched. The phrase, “All I have is my good name,” has never rung truer than today. If you are a writer, blogger, personality of any sort, or anyone who “puts it out there,” you probably already know enough to do these things. But there is more to do.
If someone, perhaps a potential employer or mate or client, searches your name on Google Web, Google Blogs or Google News, what will they find? Will it be someone else posing as you? Will it be a picture of you doing a keg stand? Or will it be you in your nicest outfit, accepting an award for an accomplishment? Either way, you need to manage your online identity and work toward preventing social media identity theft.
This isn’t an easy task. Nor is it fun. It can be time consuming and almost overwhelming. But I believe that the long term rewards are worth it.
Robert Siciliano, identity theft speaker, discusses social media privacy.
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Great article on protecting your identity/brand on social media. Since many of us rely on this medium for marketing, we have to be vigilant with our names. Thanks again!
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