Thursday, January 8, 2015

Social Media: When TMI Stands For "Steal My Identity"

If we don't act now to safeguard our privacy, we could all become victims of identity theft. - Bill Nelson

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else. - David Brin

While in Calgary airport the other night, I happened to overhear someone from the drilling industry in Calgary speaking to an airline representative on the phone.  While in the process of making a reservation change to postpone his flight until the next day, he gave his email address to the person on the other end of the conversation.

I started twiddling on my phone and my travel companion asked me what I was doing.

“Professional curiosity”, I replied as I continued to poke on my phone.

Within 60 seconds, I had obtained this person’s name, birthday, home and work addresses, his home, work and mobile numbers, his boss’s name and contact information and how long he would be out of town.  At the same time, I obtained the same personal information for his girlfriend, thus confirming that they lived apart.  I also had his flight reservation code. One call on my part could have obtained his credit card information as well since I had sufficient information to pose as either of them.

I looked at my travel companion, sighed and then made the following observation.

“So after 60 seconds, I can do the following.  I can alter his flight information, changing or cancelling his flight.  I know he is out of town so I can arrange to break into his home.  If his girlfriend is staying at his house while he is away, I can break into her home instead since I know where she lives also.  I could stop by to see his girlfriend or stalk her if I was depraved enough to do so.  Their social media profiles are open to posting by non-friends so I could post things on either of their social media profiles just for the point of making trouble (something like “It was great seeing you last night, __name__.  I was relieved when you said that __name__ wouldn’t be back into town until __date__ and can’t wait to see you again.” or “the company that I work for, __name__, really sucks and doesn’t know how to do anything right”).

I also had enough information to begin the process of stealing both of their identifies.

All because of a couple of pieces of information that we carelessly toss around at will, not caring who hears it, and being a little too liberal with what is shared on the Internet.

People are always screaming about the importance of governments and social media platforms like Facebook working harder to protect our privacy.

However, I think that we need to do a better job of protecting our own privacy.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,



In this situation, neither of the people had children.  If they had, it is likely that I would have been able to obtain more information about the children than the parents would have appreciated.  However, I was able to obtain information about their relatives’ children.  I’m not sure their relatives would have been amused.

What if it were your kids?


  1. That is crazy scary. I'll be more careful when giving information in public. I could Google myself I guess and see what I find. What else can I do to protect myself?????

  2. This is certainly an eye opening post. Thanks Harry