Forgotten Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts: Now's the time to clear your social media cobwebs

A large number of neglected social media profiles were created at a time when cyber fraud wasn't such a concern (Source: Getty)

Online social networks now connect 2bn people and millions of businesses across the world. Email, by comparison, cannot keep up.

But while we tend to feel comfortable sending sensitive content via email, most social networks are designed to be broadcasting platforms for sharing as much information as you like with friends, acquaintances or just about anyone.

But what happens to all the social network profiles which are just sitting there unsecure and open? Forgotten or abandoned social media accounts are a goldmine for identifying personal information about someone, whether it’s for spear phishing (bogus email fraud), password cracking or social engineering (manipulating people to give up information). And these problems cost businesses money and effort to resolve. A recent survey by research firm Vanson Bourne and sponsored by Cloudmark found that the average cost of a spear phishing attack on US and UK businesses was over £1m.

Abandoned accounts on LinkedIn may be the result of someone registering on the site when it launched in 2003 and then forgetting about it. Perhaps they set up an account with a work email address, switched jobs and lost access, or changed their personal email address. We’ve all seen these accounts: no photo, few connections and only one job (think “1998 to present”).

But more often than not, these profiles were created at a time when online security was less of a concern, and they may give details such as a user’s place of education, and the city where they were living. Such information may seem trivial, but it can easily make you or your company a victim of a costly fraud or scam.

Don’t be an easy target

Most cyber criminals are there to earn money. But they don’t usually like to work hard if they don’t have to, especially when so much information is within easy reach and offers a quick payoff.

If you’re a target of identity theft, or worse the scapegoat for a social engineering or phishing fraud attack against your colleagues or board members, criminals will use whatever information they can find about you. This will include: who you are, where you’re from and what you’ve done. The more information which is freely available, the easier it is.

It has been estimated that, of the 400m registered LinkedIn accounts, 20 per cent have been abandoned or forgotten. Neglected profiles portray an unconnected, unpopular, and unprofessional version of you.

So this spring, why not show your online self some love and protection, and dust away those social media cobwebs?

Online spring cleaning

Check LinkedIn and other social networks for accounts which share your name. If you find a forgotten account, try to recover the password and close it down. When it comes to accounts which you actively use, check your privacy settings and make sure you’re only sharing information you want to be public.

It’s surprising how many people accept connections from people they’ve never met. Ask yourself, why do they want to know me? Consider deleting the unknown people you never communicate with.

The website provides direct routes to close all the social media accounts you no longer use. Think about that MySpace account you created more than ten years ago – is it still out there, and what does it say about you?

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