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Social Networking and Birthdates


We all have heard about the dangers of identity theft. There have even been some clever commercials about it on the television. But when the “bad guys” get a hold of enough information to impersonate you to the point where they can establish credit in your name, you are in for a world of hurt. The amount of time and effort that you must spend to clean things up, not to mention the damage to your reputation and the pain of clearing your credit rating, can be enough to give you a major migraine headache.

But did you know that those who are listing their birthdates on social networking sites (or any other site for that matter) are taking a risk with their identity?

The information that an identity thief needs to steal your identity is:

  1. Your name
  2. Your Birthdate
  3. Your Social Security Number

The name is pretty much a given. It can be taken from lots of places. The social security number is something most of us by now have heard that we need to protect with great vigor. But what about your birthdate?

Well, beyond the fact that it is one of the three pieces of information that an identity thief needs to steal your identity, it was reported two years ago that it is possible to “guess” your social security number with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy given only your birthdate, the state of your birth, and publicly available data.

Research at Carnagie Mellon University in 2009 ( Click here for SSN Prediction Article) showed that by using your name, birthdate, state of birth, and publicly available data, they could predict the first 5 digits of your social security number with 60% accuracy in only two tries! And with less than 1,000 attempts, 8.5 percent of people’s complete social security number could be accurately guessed.

Of course you may be saying, “so if it takes 1,000 attempts to get my SSN correct, what have I to worry about?” Well, it turns out plenty. You see, the “bad guys” can create programs to query credit card systems to apply for a credit card. They can try different combinations of name, social security number, etc. over and over again until they get the right one. Thus, needing only 1,000 tries is not that big of a deal to them.

Now also keep in mind that this research was performed TWO YEARS AGO! I have no doubt that statistical methods, as well as the data contained in online public databases has only increased the accuracy of such predictions.

Now consider the millions of people who use social networking tools such as facebook who proudly post personal information such as their home state, their birthdate, etc., and you begin to see the potential for abuse of this information. An additional problem with birthdates is that there are so manly public databases that contain this information that the persistent “bad guy” could probably find your birthdate without much trouble. But why would you want to make it easy for them?

With regards to social networking sites, there are a growing number of people who now give false birthdates so as not to divulge that information so publicly.¬†However, whether or not you want to make it easy on the “bad guys” by posting it on your facebook profile is up to you. The purpose of this post is to simply make you aware of the potential danger, however slight you may feel that it is, so that you can make an informed decision.

Until next time…think before you post!

 

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