Why you can’t afford NOT to have an online identity

In this age of social networking, there’s no limit to the selection of sites you could sign up for… MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Xanga, Blogger – the list goes on. From time to time, I run into the occasional person who absolutely refuses to so much as sign up for any of these sites.

They often cite fears of identity theft, lack of privacy, lack of control over the data, and so on. These fears are very legitimate, by no means unfounded, and for the most part, I generally would confirm that they are true. Being a member of a social networking site does, to some extent increase your risk of identity theft. Having all the appropriate information in one single place makes it all the easier for the would-be-thief to gather the necessary information. Further, we seem to forget that each site that we sign up for is ultimately run by people. Employees of these companies are often free to browse every detail of information that you have posted, even that which is supposedly kept private. And yes, it is very true, you give up some element of privacy when you make part of your life public, however limited that may be.

With that said, I would like to propose what I feel is a very strong reason why these individuals who refrain from online “social networking” should join as soon as possible:

A) Current statistics show that a very small percentage of identity theft results from an online data compromise. Take a look at some statistics from the BBB [1] Only 9% to 11% of all identity theft takes place from a “compromise” that took place on-line (and only a fraction of these were related to social networking). It is significantly more likely that your identity will be stolen by a friend, neighbor, in-home employee, family member or relative, than by a random stranger who stumbles across your profile on a social networking site.

B) Your data is already at risk anyway: If you use any part of today’s modern infrastructure; credit cards, driver’s licenses, colleges and universities, and even snail mail, your chances of having your identity stolen are the nearly the same as if you are a member of any major social networking site. A number of high profile cases recently have demonstrated this, as names, addresses, social security numbers, and credit card information has been stolen from hacked databases at universities, shopping retailers, and more. [2][3]

C) (My key point) Social Networking is a very established form of communication. NOT having an identity on one of these sites makes it trivial for someone else to impersonate you, by signing up an account under your own name. Using this semi-formal means of communication, they will be able to gain access to other real-life information about you. However, if you at least have an account under your name on each of the most popular sites, it is much less likely that someone will try to impersonate you on the same site, particularly if you are already “connected” with all your friends.

[1] The Better Business’ Bureau – Identity Theft Quiz
[2] 45.7 million credit and debit cards stolen – all these people did was go shopping
[3] 100,000 iPad owner’s identities stolen all these people did was own an iPad