It seems obvious not to post your social security number on social media. But apparently not everyone thinks it’s so risky. According to a report on scam victims by the AARP, 10 percent of victims posted their social security numbers on social media before they got scammed.
Everyone on the internet is a target for scammers and identity thieves. But seniors who use social media can be the most vulnerable.
You can avoid becoming a victim yourself by following best practices for protecting seniors on social media. That starts with being smart about what you share or post.
Social Media Helps Scammers Build Trust
Effective scams, including social media scams, are all about building trust. Before someone can take your money, they need to convince you to open your wallet. Generally, we like and trust people who are similar to us, so scammers will try to create a connection.
The problem is that scammers can easily fake that connection. We like people who are similar to us even when those similarities are something small. In studies of how we react to groups, it does not matter why someone is put into our group in the first place. We like people in our group, and like people outside our group less.
Scammers use the power of social media to seem similar to their targets. They will join the same groups, or pretend to have the same interests. They may even create a profile designed to attract you (more on that below). And such strategies work. People are twice as likely to engage with scammers on social media, and four times more likely to lose money than when scammers contact them by phone or email.
Even Small Pieces of Information Can Be Dangerous
Social media scammers are more effective because they can learn more about you. The more a scammer knows, the easier it is for them to pretend to be someone you know, or tailor their con for your particular weaknesses. Scammers look at your social media feeds to find out about you.
That report from the AARP pointed out that victims of online scams were more active online and post more personal information about themselves. So seniors need to be careful about what they post. For instance, victims were twice as likely as non-victims to post their personal schedules or phone number.
You might already know that you shouldn’t post your schedule or phone number. But as longtime fraud expert Adam Levin points out in his book, Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves, even harmless information can be combined into something a scammer can use, like answers to your security questions.
Even Simple Posts Can be Dangerous
Things you might think are harmless at first can be dangerous to post about. To avoid scams on social media, avoid posting about the following things:
- Real-time pictures and upcoming trips: This gives away your location and tells thieves when you are out of the house
- Photos of your home, car, or valuables: this can show thieves where you keep your valuables or what might be worth stealing
- Class reunions, schools attended, degrees, and important dates: scammers could pretend to be one of your classmates, or someone calling from the school
- Birthdays and anniversaries: people often use important dates for passcodes, and birthdays are used as identifying information
- Pets and kids: their names are often the answers to security questions
The key thing to remember is to avoid posting things that will help scammers pretend to be you or pretend to be someone you know.
For instance, scammers can take an email you post and change a single letter to impersonate you. Whoever receives the message might not notice this small change, especially if they expect to get emails from you.
Again, it can be something simple. You might post a message for your spouse to celebrate your anniversary. But, that celebration post has handed a scammer a key detail about your life.
Dealing with Romance Scams
One particular social media scam deserves special mention: catfishing, or creating fake profiles to attract people into a relationship. Romance scammers will pretend to be someone they are not, and once they hook you into a relationship, they’ll start asking for money.
Senior romance scams are on the rise as more and more older people turn to online dating. Certain things can help you identify when someone might not be who they say they are.
Be wary of people who say they cannot talk on the phone or use a webcam. Generally, if someone wants to avoid speaking with you or showing their face, it’s because how they look and sound does not match the photo they sent you.
Also be suspicious of constant emergencies. People will use emergencies to either break plans (again, because they are afraid of being seen) or to ask for money. If someone asks you for money too soon after a relationship starts, that should be a sign that something is wrong. A good rule is to never give money to people online if you have not met them in person yet.
Do not give away any personal information or pictures you would not want widely available. Scammers can use private or embarrassing photos to blackmail you. Always assume that everything you post or send online is permanent.
Finally, look out for “love bombing”. Online scammers will often profess their love or affection much too early in a relationship as a way of hooking someone. Watch out for excessive displays of affection.
The best tip for how seniors can avoid online dating scams is to recognize them before they start.
Watch Out When You Feel Lonely
Anyone can be scammed, not just seniors. But research shows that certain life experiences make us more likely to be victims. Those life experiences include:
- Losing your job
- Losing money
- Concern over debt
- Feeling isolated or lonely
That last one is crucial for social media scams that target seniors. There’s a reason romance scams skyrocket around Valentine’s Day. So be extra careful if you turn to online dating. It can definitely work, but it also makes you a target.
Control What You Post
If you are wondering how seniors can stay safe on social media, you need to think before you post. Ask yourself, how could a scammer use this information against me? The answer is obvious if you post your social security number. But, scammers can combine everyday posts to give them an edge too.
If you sense a threat, it’s always better to post less rather than more. Remember, oversharing can quickly make you a victim.