There Are Some Things You Should Keep to Yourself

If seen by the wrong person, some photos can be worth a thousand passwords.

We live in an interconnected, up-to-the-minute world of social networks, micro blogs, and photo-sharing services. Thanks to cameras embedded in smartphones with virtually unlimited data plans, many people seem to chronicle every moment of their lives. They post photos and videos of events, both important and mundane, through services like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where anyone can see them.

We don’t just have to be careful not to tweet something embarrassing, or not to put up that awful picture of our friend’s wardrobe malfunction. We need to use some common sense with photos containing personally identifiable information, or PII, as well. Though just about everyone knows enough to not type their social security number, phone number, or address for public eyes, sometimes they don’t think about exactly what’s in the photos they’re putting online.

We’ve all seen the photos of people in the bathroom that include some extra bonuses in the background. If you’re one of the lucky few who haven’t, a quick search should find you plenty of examples. Please don’t blame me for being unable to unsee what you will have seen. What I’m talking about are things people are sharing intentionally, without thinking about the consequences.

Below is a short list of things you might want to think twice about taking pictures of and putting out there for everyone to see. It’s by no means exhaustive.

  • Your debit card/credit card:  So many people post these photographs on Twitter that someone started an account under the name @NeedADebitCard just to retweet them. It’s not hard to understand why this would be a bad idea. Online purchases are made by inputting your credit card number into a store’s payment field, along with its expiration date. Posting a photograph of that information may lead to finding some interesting charges to your account.
  • Your Social Security card:  Considering how hyper-aware people are of keeping their Social Security Number to themselves, it’s surprising that some have been known to post pictures of their cards. This is how people wind up finding out they have 15 credit cards and a credit score of 40 when they start getting mysterious letters from collection agencies.
  • Your driver’s license:  This is a misstep made most often by new teenage drivers, excited and proud of their newly acquired ability to get behind the wheel (legally). A driver’s license contains a wealth of personal information, so if you want to show everyone how awful your new DMV photo is, be sure to cover the area that displays your address, date of birth, and license number.
  • Bills/account statements:  These can contain all the information that someone might need to access your account, be it your phone, your bank, or your utilities. If you receive an outrageous bill that you feel the need to post a picture of, be sure to black out this information.
  • Health insurance cards: Unlike the previous entries, I’ve never seen this done, but it wouldn’t shock me to learn it’s happened. Insurance cards contain policy and group information which might allow someone to get care under your name, and leave you with a big bill. Insurance fraud is a rampant problem.
  • Photographs of a new phone with contacts on the screen: This may be the worst offense, in that it doesn’t necessarily affect the individual posting the photo, but people they associate with. It’s the 21st century equivalent to posting your rolodex to a billboard on the side of a highway.

Have you had friends share info they shouldn’t have? Let us know about it in the comments.

About the author  ⁄ John Craig

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