Identity theft: it can happen to anyone by anyone.

Ever since I’ve come to Prague I’ve been so paranoid, always hugging my bag, making sure it never leaves my side. My cousin was studying here last year and was unfortunately pick-pocketed twice! I knew it was a serious matter and I promised myself would be extremely careful. Even so when they were talking about theft during orientation they said “it happens every semester…” and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking “LOL what if it’s me? It’s going to be me…”

Well, a couple weeks ago my friends and I took a trip to Vienna, Austria for the weekend. We had about 2 hours until our train back when we stopped to take pictures by the Danube. A few of us put our bags down while taking the pictures; we thought it was fine because we were all standing right there, and there was no one else around. Sure enough I turn my back for a second and my bag was gone. My stomach dropped as I ran around the area, desperately searching. I couldn’t breathe as I remembered what was in my bag: every single form of identification I owned including my passport, my PASSPORT! How dumb could I be? A silly American tourist; I was the perfect target for identity theft.

This was the old fashion way of identity theft – stealing my tangible identification cards. Now imagine how much easier identity theft could be nowadays via social media. We put up all of our information, including full names, date of birth, home town, relationship statuses, school locations, interests and hobbies, etc. without even thinking about the consequences. A simple tweet such as “Going to Oktoberfest this weekend #NYUPRG15 :)” can say so much…

Octane Magazine’s feature titled “How Social Media Networks Facilitate Identity Theft and Fraud”, states that identity theft affects millions of people a year, costing victims countless hours and money in identity recovery and repair. There are several causes to this pattern of online theft and fraud that we must become more aware of. With social media as a now mundane activity, users really lack knowledge regarding protecting their identity when online. We have all become really comfortable with online social platforms. We use Facebook, Twitter, and the like everyday and have gained a lot of trust for these networks, never really thinking that anything bad could ever happen.

And that’s always the case. You hear these stories of it happening to other people but you always think, “oh but that would never happen to me”. Until it does.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Geeks On Call.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Geeks On Call.

A Huffington post article by Robert Siciliano, – the Personal Security and Identity Theft Expert – explains that social media identity thieves have various motives. Siciliano says that the most damaging type of this theft occurs when someone poses as you in order to disrupt your life. This disruption can take on many forms such as harassment, stalking you or your contacts, or stealing your online identity for financial gain. Siciliano concludes that the root of the problem is how social media sites (much like the Prague public transportation system) are all based on the honor system. We always assume that people’s accounts are authentic and honest. Our trust in social media is obviously causing unforeseen problems.

Robert Siciliano also offers several steps of how we could prevent social media identity theft, including setting up safe accounts, building up our online reputations, contacting the site’s administrations, and getting Internet security software. But inevitably, you can never truly prevent identity theft. I’ve definitely learned to become more aware of it and I advise that everyone else should make the choice to be more careful, whether traveling abroad or surfing the web.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user alex skopje.


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