And for security purposes, your mother’s maiden name is……?

In last month’s blog, I shared some of the interesting ways that businesses can be subjected to fraud with their business checks, using simple household things like scotch tape.

Lately I’ve been thinking about passwords and how to keep personal information safe and secure.Now all of us are pretty careful about our social security numbers, our credit card numbers, EIN’s, those obvious chunks of data that could compromise us. It’s not sometimes obvious how small pieces of information could be out in the main stream internet and available to thieves.

So let’s start with what is seemingly a difficult piece of information to obtain, but is a potential key to unlock a whole host of personal data – your mother’s maiden name. Within the past few years, your mother’s maiden name has become one of the top two security questions needed for bank passwords, mortgage accounts, credit card accounts, and other areas where a password reset is needed. So how hard is it to find? On first thought, pretty hard. It’s on your birth certificate, and on your parent’s marriage license, but neither of those documents are ones we carry around. So how does the maiden name get out?

Facebook.

I enjoy Facebook as much as anybody. I keep up with friends and colleagues, and get to participate in groups and hobbies I enjoy. I share pictures of where I am, my children, my hilarious pets, and articles I find interesting. And as much as Facebook can be fun and interesting, it can be a treasure trove of personal data ripe for the picking.

If you’re a female with a Facebook account, then your maiden name is probably listed right on your profile. If you’re a dude, and your mom is on Facebook, it’s probable that her maiden name is right there for anyone to see. It’s listed for an innocent enough purpose – so those from your past, who you may not know now but you knew before you got married – can find you. Go check – is your Facebook (for the women out there) first name maiden name last name? While I’m penning this blog, I’m thinking of a number of my lady friends, and I think almost all of them use their maiden name. I did a quick count and 70% of my women Facebook friends (including my mom) list their current first name, maiden name, and last name up front on top of their profile.

How about your hometown? How many of you were born in your hometown? If it’s listed on your profile, then you’ve given a potential identity thief a second key piece of information in a quest to steal the data they need. Further, if you’ve listed all the places you’ve lived, you’ve put even more personal information out there for someone to steal.

Isn’t it nice to get birthday wishes on Facebook? Is it nice enough to give that information out to the whole world? ‘Cause if your birthday is on your profile, you’ve done just that.

Last is the lovely “family” part of the FB page – you know, where you list who is in your family. It’s in the about section of your profile.

With these four seemingly innocent pieces of data, you connect many dots for an identity thief. Your full name, your birthday, your family, your mother (and probably her maiden name) as well as your hometown and a list of where you’ve lived.

How to tighten your security and the information you share:

First fix. On Facebook you can list your maiden name in your profile (thus making it easy for people to search for you who KNOW your maiden name already) but not show it.

Go to the little settings gear on the top right, click settings, and then next to your name, click edit. When the window opens, you can put in your name as it is now, then under your Alternate Names, list your maiden name. Uncheck Include this on your timeline and then your maiden name is searchable for those who knew you, but not available to those who didn’t.

Your hometown is nice to list on your profile, but don’t make it too specific. If it happens to be the town you’re born in, you might want to go a bit broader to the nearest metropolitan area.

Next Fix: It’s easy to hide your birthday from your profile. Go to your profile, about, then basic information. You can list your birthday, but click the lock, and “only me”. Now your birthday is there, but it’s secure.

Last Fix: Click “About” on your page, then family, then edit. You can make your family members visible only to those who need to see it.

It goes without saying that you should also lock down your profile so that only friends can see what you post, about you, and most all of your profile This is handled under the settings gear as well, but click Privacy on the left side. This is where you control who sees what and who can find you on Facebook.

For more information about Facebook and privacy, click here.

Look for next month’s article about an easy way to learn different passwords for the web – and never have to write them down.

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