Privacy in Today’s Social Media World

| October 4, 2021 | 0 Comments

At Blankinship & Foster, we spend a LOT of time thinking about security and privacy to protect our clients’ hard-earned assets. So, when I set up a Venmo account recently to pay a buddy of mine for some football tickets, I was horrified by the amount of information available publicly.

As I was setting up the account, the first thing it asked me to do was to sync all of my phone contacts with Venmo. I was in a hurry and hit yes without thinking too much about it. In the blink of an eye, I saw that one friend had used Venmo the night before to order pizza and another had been paid for acupuncture services. Several times, in fact, and I could see who paid her for it. I could see who was doing housekeeping for whom. You get the idea.

I can’t think of anyone I know who would be happy with this level of public insight into their personal finances (including a couple of the people whose activity I am able to see). Forgetting for the moment whether you want the world to know about your acupuncture treatments, having that much information visible is flat out dangerous.

For starters, hackers and criminals use information in social media to better understand their targets. The profile page on social media platforms like Facebook contain a wealth of information, often including full names, addresses, date of birth, hometown, where you work, went to school, etc. All of this can be used to more narrowly target scams directed at you. This information can also be used to trick others into giving up information about you, or to scam your friends using your background data. One of the most obvious vulnerabilities includes things like public vacation posts on Facebook or Instagram, which lets crooks know when you’re away from your home.

Hackers use friend requests to gain access to your information on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and others. In fact, LinkedIn is one of the top places that hackers research their targets. They use posts and profile information to tailor phishing and other attacks. They also use it to access your friends’ network. And if they can learn enough about you to impersonate you to your friends, they have a powerful attack, since most people will click on links sent from friends.

This Social Engineering (learning about a target from social media posts) is very subtle but also very pervasive. Most passwords are too simple, like a child or pet’s name; information which is often available on social media. Automated tools allow hackers to try these passwords with number combinations like “Fido123, Fido1234, etc.” More importantly, the answers to a lot of challenge questions like “where were you born” or “what high school did you attend” are also available.

Once a hacker has access to your accounts, they can use that information to steal money or other personal data (in order to steal money). Schwab has reported a significant increase in cases where a client’s email account was hacked then the hacker sent suspicious requests for cash transfers. Hackers who do this will often monitor a hacked account for some time in order to learn more about their target in order to create better scams.

Social media can be great fun, yet should always be viewed somewhat skeptically. Carefully review the privacy settings to ensure that your information stays as private as possible. Review the information you’ve shared and ask yourself if maybe you’ve put too much information online. For example, would “San Franciso Bay Area” be better than “Sausalito, CA” for hometown?

If possible, enable two factor authentication for any website that can access your finances. This typically involves receiving a text message with a code that you enter after entering your password. This provides an additional layer of security even if your password has been compromised.

Just trying to find the right mix of investments to achieve your financial goals can be complex enough without adding these additional factors on top. But if aligning your values with your dollars is important to you, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional can help you get started.

This column is prepared by Rick Brooks, CFA®, CFP®. Rick is director/investment management with Blankinship & Foster, LLC, a wealth advisory firm specializing in financial planning and investment management for people preparing for retirement. Brooks can be reached at (858) 755-5166, or by email at Brooks and his family live in Mission Hills.

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