By Denise Ng
According to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, the commission received 2.1 million complaints of fraud, identity theft and problems involving lending institutions in 2020. Imposter scams were the most common type of fraud reported. Online shopping was the second most reported fraud.
In 2020, consumers reported losing $3.3 billion to fraud. From that amount reported, $1.2 billion was due to imposter scams and $246 million was due to online shopping fraud.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, a database that receives reports from consumers, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, the Better Business Bureau and non-profit organizations received 4.7 million reports of fraud in 2020. Additionally, this report stated that consumers reported 1.4 million identity theft cases to the FTC in 2020.
In addition to consumer fraud, romance scams are on the rise. The FTC reported consumers lost $201 million in romance scams for the year 2019. However, this number is predicted to be higher because many victims do not report being scammed out of fear or due to embarrassment. With romance scams, scammers attempt to gain access to your bank account, credit cards, and convince their victims to send money. Many victims have lost their life savings to romance scams.
In the public relations industry, social media is key to reaching your audience. To be effective, you need to practice two-way communication with your audience and provide a mechanism for feedback. Additionally, media advisories, press releases, announcements and event information posted on social media and websites will require your contact information. Your name, cellphone number, email address and place of employment are available for public viewing. Having your information on social media and the internet creates an opportunity for criminals to steal and use your identity to commit crimes.
Here are five tips to protect your identity on social media.
1. Use two separate social media accounts - one for work and the other for personal use. Whether you’re the owner, employee or consultant, you should keep your work and personal social media accounts separate. This can prevent criminals from gaining access to your personal information. Criminals constantly search for information on social media and sell it to other criminals. Personal information is used to apply for driver’s licenses, credit cards, government issued documents and loans.
2. To protect your identity and picture from being stolen, use a logo or something other than a picture of yourself as your profile picture. This will prevent someone from using your picture to create a fake social media account. A Diamond Bar Councilmember uses one account for his personal and city council use. Unfortunately for him, he has become a target of identity theft. Someone has taken his pictures from social media and repeatedly created fake Facebook and Instagram accounts to meet women online in an attempt to commit romance scams. Even though Chou reported these fake accounts to Facebook and Instagram, nothing has been done to address this fraud.
3. Use separate emails for work and personal use. Often criminals will get your email from a social media account, media advisory, press release or announcement. They will use your email in an attempt to log into your social media accounts and change your password, then send malware to everyone on your friend list.
4. Use separate cellphone numbers for work and personal use. I recommend downloading the app Google Voice to get a free phone number to use for work. This will allow you to use two phone numbers on one phone. Keep your personal number private and use it for personal use only. Criminals can hack your phone and get access to your bank account. Thieves look for bank account numbers and routing numbers, then create fake checks using your banking information or transfer funds to another account.
5. Make your personal social media accounts private. This will allow you to have control over who has access to your personal information. Criminals search social media accounts, LinkedIn accounts and the internet for your pictures and personal information. These thieves download pictures to create fake accounts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and dating apps to commit romance scams. However, this doesn’t only apply to romance scams. Fake accounts are created to hide one’s identity. For several years, a Sacramento Assembly Member used another Assembly Member’s picture to meet women on a dating app. After a four year affair, a woman exposed him during a committee hearing.
In today’s digital climate, identity theft and fraud are at an all-time high. Working in the public relations industry requires public outreach, putting you at risk for identity theft. Fraud will continue to increase with social media growth.
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