Tag Archives: Foursquare

No Vaccine for Social Media Theft

Whether you are new to college, single and dating or newly divorced (because you panicked and confessed when news of the Ashley Madison hack hit the media), I’ll bet there is at least one socially transmitted disease you haven’t started worrying about: identity theft.

If you use Facebook, you’re making easy work for identity thieves. The same goes for the whole cosmos of social media whether you favor Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube or LinkedIn or prefer to Tumblr your thoughts, preferences and predilections to anyone who cares to know what they are. The more you put out there in publicly viewable spaces, the more your personal identity mosaic is exposed. An identity thief’s day job is piecing together that mosaic into a passable, or usable, version of you: one that will get through the authentication process of financial, medical or governmental organizations.

The echo of another kind of disease here is intentional. Like the more widely known kind of STD, the socially transmitted diseases that fall under the rubric of identity-related crimes are contracted by unsafe personal information practices. Unlike the more familiar variety, where safety is taught in high school, tacked to college community boards and heralded by countless other media new and old, not as many people these days know how to stay as safe as possible from the threat of identity theft, especially online.

How to practice “safe social”:

  1. Don’t overshare. It’s okay to let the world know you’re on vacation so long as you have a great security system at home or you have a house sitter. Traditional trespassers use social media to know when houses are unguarded. It is far better to share the memory than report the experience as it’s unfolding.
  2. Be careful when posting pictures. While it’s fun to brag about a purchase—whether that be a diamond ring, a car or the smartest TV on the market, just be aware that anyone following you now knows where they can get your newest trophy or indulgence for free.
  3. Geotagging is for victims. There is no upside for you here. Companies like geotagging photos and other people-powered media assets because it gives them bankable information that could lead to future sales. Whether you are letting Twitter or Facebook or FourSquare narrowcast (or broadcast, depending on your privacy settings) your location, failure to disable location services on your device permits geotagging, which also gives thieves bankable info that could lead to future crimes.
  4. Know your privacy settings. Make sure you understand how your posts are being displayed or distributed by the social network you use. For instance, on Facebook you can set a post to “Public” or “Only Me,” with many choices in between.
  5. Lying is good. Facebook, especially, is a perfectly acceptable place to not be forthcoming about your age, hometown, place of employment or even the college you attended and what years you were there. Identity thieves comb social sites for information to complete dossiers of personally identifiable information that will allow them to correctly answer security questions and thus open new financial accounts or empty existing ones. If you don’t want to actively fabricate answers to these questions, just don’t fill out those parts of your profile.
  6. Beware of quizzes that require personally identifiable information. Make no mistake, your email address and name count.

There is no immunization

Unlike the other kind of STD, the socially transmitted disease of identity theft is not avoidable. There is no immunization, no safe way to avoid it—not even complete abstinence. There have been too many breaches with too much data for anyone but those living entirely off the grid to be completely safe. (And even still you can’t be sure.)

Your best bet, in my opinion, is a system detailed in my book (forthcoming in November). A key element to that approach is acceptance. Specifically, you need to come to terms with the fact that it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when” you will become a victim of at least one type, if not multiple types, of identity theft. Anyone who tells you that they can keep you from getting got is selling snake oil. In fact, they are running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission. There is no guarantee. There are, however, best practices.


If you accept the basic premise that you are at risk for identity theft no matter what you do, here are some thoughts as to how you might stay as safe as possible. The good news may actually be that you are a seasoned and intelligent user of social media, because that means you already have several of the habits in place that you will need.

Minimize your exposure

The same strategies you can adopt to make yourself a harder-to-hit target on social media go for the rest of your life. Whether that means saying “no” when asked for your Social Security number, limiting the amount of sensitive personal information you provide to anyone who contacts you, making sure all your accounts (email, social networking, financial or retail) have different user names paired with unique, long and strong passwords, properly securing your computers and mobile devices or freezing your credit—there are a variety of things you can do to make your attackable surface smaller.

Monitor your accounts

If you use social media regularly, you are used to checking in on a regular basis—the Pew Research Center found that 70% of Facebook users check in daily, as did about half of Instagram users, and nearly 40% of Tweeps. The same behavior, applied to your financial life, may keep you from getting got … or help you undo or minimize the damage in case you do. Check your bank and credit card accounts daily. Other things you can do include signing up for free transactional monitoring alerts at your bank, credit union or credit card provider, or purchasing more sophisticated credit and noncredit monitoring programs.

Manage the damage

When the dark day comes that your daily practice of monitoring your credit or financial life yields a compromise, you need to get on it immediately by informing the institution of the account that is involved, as well as law enforcement and the fraud department of at least one credit reporting agency. Because many insurance companies, a number of financial services organizations and the human resources departments at a number of companies offer complimentary or low-cost identity theft assistance as a perk of your relationship with the institution, check to see if you are covered or, if not, how you can get covered. Resolution experts can greatly help you speed your way back to normalcy.

Identity theft is a permanent threat. The best way to stay safe is to change your behavior. The above tips are only some of the ways to do that. In the age of universal data vulnerability, practicing safe information hygiene is a must—lest you contract the one STD that may haunt you for the rest of your life.

Insurance and the Connected Car

I grew up watching Knight Rider and seeing KITT, where Michael would continuously talk into his watch, and KITT would drive to his rescue (through a garage door or two) or safely transport him through the night while Michael had a catch-up on his sleep — only to be woken up by the local police freaked out at the thought of him asleep at the wheel, only to be foiled by his pretending to have a “crook neck”!

Move forward 15-plus years, and we now talk to our watches, and cars are driving themselves. This futuristic TV show and its “connected car” is today’s reality and only becoming more and more real. We are allowed driverless cars from January 2015.

The connected car is a super exciting area that many folks already talk about in great detail. In fact, Capgemini’s Car’s Online study  presents a compelling case. Here is a quick summary from me of benefits:

  • Safety — by default, car capability increases beyond recognition. Humans no longer control of the car (especially as the car will react quicker than we ever would). In 2015, all cars in Europe must be equipped with eCall, a system that automatically contacts emergency services and directs them to the vehicle location in the event of a serious crash.
  • Fleet knowledge and efficiency — knowing when to roll vans/cars/trucks across what roads.
  • Intelligent GPS — bye bye theft, traffic jams and other inconveniences.
  • Location-based services — working out the best things for you along the way, including charging points for you and your car!
  • Infotainment and more — never be out of touch; everything is connected to your biometric-enabled smart phone. Your fingerprint not only unlocks the phone but tells the car who is driving and sets your profile and other preferences.

Of course, there is far more to it than this. The key here for me — it’s an unprecedented volume of data for us to derive insights from. There is a good summary from Direct Line in the UK here. A 12-month pilot, for example, gathered more than 11 million miles of data.

It’s nothing new!

One of my frustrations is that everyone talks about telematics as a new shiny thing. Like GPS, telematics has been around for more years than I care to recall — however, it has only just found its feet in mainstream marketing and the minds of consumers, primarily because of plummeting technology costs for the telematics “black box,” smartphones that can do the same (or similar) things and, most importantly, a problem to solve: the increasingly high cost of insurance. I use the word “mainstream” carefully; telematics is talked about a lot, with adoption in some key demographics (young drivers). While it has applicability across a great many other demographics, the number of actual policies is still relatively low compared with the total number of policies in force for any one insurer. I do, however, believe this will change, not because of the desire to reduce the cost but more because of the way we move to buy everything as a true utility or service.

This was debated at a recent roundtable discussion by Post magazine, which I participated in. However, to drive significant adoption, it may need a more fundamental change. Perhaps a change in law from opt-in to opt-out? It would certainly give governments the opportunity to truly consider road charging properly!

Let’s be blunt!

The connected car brings so much more and is yet another blunt instrument providing oodles of data back to organizations that allow you to use it. As in most of these cases, there is always a pioneer, and in the world of motoring it’s usually Formula 1, followed quickly by Mercedes in the consumer markets, before it filters down to other manufacturers. As an aside, there are some great videos here on data in F1 here and here – the difference being, soon this will be available to all of us, on our phones. F1 is a world where hundreds or thousands of changes are made to the car during a race to increase performance and the team’s chances of winning. It’s all data-driven. Imagine now if that same logic could apply to your everyday commute. Extend the life of your car, avoid accidents and congested roads and get cheaper gasoline. The list goes on — these, in fairness, are all here today and almost all through your smartphone. It’s simply quicker and easier to update than the cars’ in-built systems. Just look at the long list of features on the Ford Fiesta driving experience page.

Today’s reasonably priced car is a hive of sensors, features and functions. Advertising of them has moved from mpg, performance and power steering, to how it connects to the rest of your digital life, from Foursquare check-ins with Mini, to connecting to your phone in every car. (A change in law helped that specifically here in the UK, to ban the use of phones while driving.) In fact, infotainment is now seen as more important in most cases than the actual driving experience itself.

From an insurance perspective, the connected car offers a great insight into not just where and when you drive, but how you drive, too — therefore what risk you present to insure. We already have the ability to do some great things way beyond UBI (usage-based insurance); organizations like MyDrive compare your driving style to that of advanced motorists — the key here being you can drive fast (among others) safely. In fact, go a step further: Allianz has found in the Australian market that if you are a meat eater you are a better driver than your vegetarian counterpart. Data is starting to tell us much more than ever before.

What does the future hold?

Jump forward five, 10, 15 years. We will live in world of autonomous vehicles. Car safety will have excelled beyond recognition. Motor accidents will be a thing of the past. It is a familiar story now. What or who do we insure then? The personal market with have dissolved. The fleet and commercial market will have evolved.

From a personal perspective, I still question even the basics of car ownership. Going back to where I started this post, I remember growing up as a kid, and my first ambition at 17 was to get driving lessons, pass my test and buy a car. Ask a 17-year-old today in the UK where car ownership is on his list of priorities, and I would be surprised to see it in the top 10. This in itself brings a new challenge. We will no longer insure the driver and vehicle; you will simply rent your journey with a Zip Car or similar, which will include a near-new car, Sat Nav, insurance, gasoline and much more. These new schemes, or fractional ownership, could destroy the need (in urban areas, at least) or the desire to own a car and its associated financial burden.

For insurance companies, we need to decide on what or where the market will be – who we establish new partnerships with outside the vehicles – to drive new revenue streams and make the most of the vast volumes of data available about each and every journey. Of course, with this brings more questions, the most important being: If all this data is so valuable, who owns it?

Home, James!

Personally, while I love driving, 99 times out of 100, we could probably be doing something else far more valuable when the one thing we haven’t solved yet is creating more time. I wait for my autonomous car to chauffeur me around in the future!