This was a rough week. Actually, scratch that. This was a terrible week.
So terrible I just had to go attend a Zumba session (yes I’m doing Zumba! I’ll blog about it sometime soon!) despite my hectic schedule and had my hair coloured and highlighted, which is something I’ve never done before (referring to the highlights).
It all started on Monday. Oh wow, was it just 6 days ago? Looking back, I feel like it happened way back, as in weeks back. That’s how tough this week was. It felt like it had lasted forever!
But I digress. It was Monday afternoon when someone I didn’t know sent me a message on Facebook. She basically asked me if I was this specific person selling LV bags on Facebook. Um, that was easy. No, I’ve never sold bags — whether online or offline. I was alarmed when she proceeded to tell me that someone has been using not only my name but also my pictures.
It was hard to accept that I just became a victim of identity theft.
A loooot has happened, so I’ll tell you about it in bullet points, avoiding the specific details:
- I had the Facebook account reported. Thanks to all the people who helped!
- I went to the NBI Cyber Crime Unit to report the incident. The person in charge wasn’t there.
- The next day, I went back to the NBI. After almost 2 hours of waiting, the person in charge finally arrived. Not much help; he didn’t even get my name. Thanks so much, NBI.
- Later that night, two more people I didn’t know contacted me to let me know that they were scammed by the person pretending to be me. They reportedly paid the scammer a big amount of money.
- I immediately went to our local police station to file a blotter report. This was already late, but they were very helpful and accommodating. Kudos to my district’s chief of police!
- The next day, I went to the Davao City Police Cyber Crime Unit carrying 20+ pages of printouts. First, I was immediately entertained, unlike NBI. My statement was taken, I filed a complaint report, and the investigator was very thorough in going through all the details of the incident. I went back home feeling very relieved because my name is cleared and someone is finally working on my case.
That’s it. I tried my best not to disclose anything specific, but to be honest, I’m still wary of sharing my story. Still, I think a lot of people would benefit from this — especially fellow bloggers like me who rely on social media. Here are the lessons I learned from this terrible experience.
1. Never use your complete name online.
This was my first faux pas. Even though I’m using only my nickname in my blog and in all my social media profiles, there’s one thing I overlooked. I listed my complete name in my “Other Name” in Facebook. As I’m not someone who looks at my own profile often, I have forgotten that the “Other Name” is publicly listed right under my profile name.
2. Never give out specific details about you, your life, or your family.
To be clear, I’ve never mentioned the following details about my life whether in my blog or in social media. I just included this because it is an important tip that everyone should know.
Never state your address, your background (how many siblings you have, etc.), your middle name, your parents’ name, your spouse’s full name, your children’s full name, your children’s school. Anything a thief can use to assume your identity.
Also, if possible, avoid posting your child’s/children’s pictures publicly. This is a big lesson for me.
3. Make your Facebook profile as private — and unsearchable — as possible.
My Facebook is private. Or so I thought. After this incident, I realized that the default setting of my album pictures is Public instead of Friends Only. There’s an easy remedy for this. Just go to settings, then click on privacy, and then choose “limit past posts” (or something like that — I’m sharing from memory).
But even if only your friends can see your posts, you’re still not 100% safe from identity theft so you should…
4. Only accept friend/follower requests from people you personally know.
In defense of myself, I try my best to only accept friend requests from people I know. That’s why I never thought I would become a victim of identity theft — I’m not Facebook-famous and I don’t have a lot of friends and followers.
However, I’m also guilty of accepting friend requests from people whom I have a lot of mutual friends with — even if I can’t really recall who they are. That’s what I’m working on right now. I’m going through every single Facebook friend I have and immediately unfriending people I don’t really know.
Don’t be afraid of offending people. If you’ve unfriended someone who turns out to be a relative or someone you personally know (perhaps they changed their name or something), just apologize and add them again. Better safe than sorry!
5. Here’s a not-so-obvious one: avoid posting or commenting on public Facebook groups.
Here’s another angle I’m considering. Just last year, I became a member of a very big Filipino community in Facebook. I’m not new to Facebook groups — in fact, I was fairly active in the Breastfeeding Pinays group years back when I was still breastfeeding — but I must admit I’ve never considered the possibility of someone using and abusing another member’s identity. I actually can’t back this up, but hey, it is possible.
While I’ve never posted in that particular group (the unnamed Filipino community), I occasionally comment on posts that I think are interesting. It never occurred to me before, but now that I think of it, almost 400,000 people — possibly even more — could see these posts/comments. These may not be necessarily revealing in your opinion, but in the eye of an identity thief, you can be easily seen as a potential victim. So be very careful!
This has been a very horrible incident. As I have mentioned to some friends, this is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Even though a couple of people have commented that I’ve been dealing with this problem so calmly, to be honest, it is one of the most stressful events of my life. I would gladly go through difficult labor again rather than this incident.
Still, it’s also an eye-opening event. I have learned so much from this, and I’ve seen the things that I should be more careful about. I realize that I might’ve been too lax and that I should be more proactive in making sure no one will be able to use and abuse my identity. I am praying that this will all end soon and that it will never happen again to me or to someone I know.
To everyone reading this, you can never be too careful, especially on social media. There are people out there whose minds don’t run like ours. They are not afraid to steal and will not hesitate to do evil things for their own benefit. It is our job to protect ourselves and our families.