Online privacy: depending on who you ask, it’s either dead, under serious threat or nothing to worry about. Because these messages are so conflicting and confusing, it’s easy to simply do nothing.
While there’s no need to panic at impending doom, your privacy is much more important than you might realise – and it’s worth protecting.
The amount of information that’s freely available about you online can greatly impact your risk of falling victim to various online crimes.
Read on to find out how your online privacy can influence major aspects of your life.
What exactly does identity theft involve? In short, it’s the unlawful acquisition of your personal information.
While phishing and scams are one way for this to happen, it can also occur via a thorough dig into your social media accounts: a process called “social engineering”. To learn more, check out our guide to social engineering.
To curb this possibility, ensure that your privacy settings are up to date on all your social media accounts: yes, even that old Twitter account you no longer use!
Love it or loathe it, background checks are now commonplace in the job application process. If your digital footprint has been destroyed by ID thieves, your online presence can create a very poor impression in the future.
For example, a Twitter hacker may destroy your reputation by tweeting abusive, violent or pornographic content using your name and account.
As evidenced by the large amount of skepticism celebrities face when trying to excuse their controversial tweets with a “sorry I was hacked” follow up, it’s almost impossible for observers to tell whether or not a genuine hack has taken place.
Potential employers are going to be even harsher critics, and compromising activity on your social media – whether you posted it or not – are going to seriously jeopardise any background checks that may be run on your name.
Thankfully, major social networks now almost always offer two-factor authentication. With your social media accounts now holding the key to your other accounts, they’re just as important to secure as your online banking accounts.
Your credit rating
Criminals don’t need your credit card or bank account details to wreak havoc. If your privacy breach involves enough personal data, they can simply create new accounts in your name – essentially acting on your behalf.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much of your data to assume your financial identity: often a driver’s license number, birth date and full name will suffice.
From these fraudulent accounts, criminals can max out credit cards, take out loans, buy illegal goods and generally cause damage that can be extremely difficult to reverse.
Worse still, it can haunt you for years to come. Bad credit sticks around for an average of 5 to 7 years, leaving you unable to apply for new loans or accounts. You might also find yourself in debt for thousands of dollars, and proving to angry creditors that you weren’t responsible for the account activity is a very difficult and legally intensive task.
It’s more common than you think, too – a 2012 study showed that 1 in 5 Australians had been a victim of identity fraud. For helpful guidelines on avoiding fraud, take a look at ASIC’s guide to preventing identity theft.
What happens online doesn’t always stay online: a privacy breach can set you up for an old-fashioned house ransacking.
How? The most obvious way for this to happen is of course the leakage of your home or business address to online criminals. However, it can also happen when identity thieves scour your social media.
Posts you make while you’re on vacation can signal that your home is currently unattended, especially when paired with poor privacy settings.
Location tagging, or “checking in” can also help narrow down your location, which can lend itself to a phenomenon called spear phishing: targeted phishing attacks where the attacker uses fragments of your personal information to create a more convincing scam.
This can help criminals get the last piece of your identity puzzle, allowing them to use your home address for parcel pirating, and yes – breaking into your home or business.
For more details on spear phishing tactics and how to protect yourself, take a look at PC Magazine’s roundup.