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FBI Urges Vigilance Around Social Media Info Sharing

With people sharing information such as the year they graduated and their school name, identity thieves can use that information to answer security questions companies typically ask to authenticate their identity.

Shutterstock/SFIO CRACHO
(TNS) — With millions of Americans stuck at home, the FBI is warning people to be wary of sharing personal information on social media sites where hackers can mine it and then use it to gain access to password-protected accounts.

Eugene Kowel, acting special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh FBI, warned about revealing information such as where you went to high school, the school mascot or your first pet because criminals can gather that information and use it to pose as you and reset your passwords.

"A lot of that information is traded and sold in Internet marketplaces," he said.

A prime example is the current trend of people posting their high school yearbook photos on Facebook as a show of support for the Class of 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis.

With people sharing information such as the year they graduated and their school name, identity thieves can scour those sites and use that information to answer security questions that companies typically ask customers to authenticate their identity.

A criminal can go online and indicate he can't remember an account password, but armed with answers to security questions such as "where did you go to school?" or "what was your school's mascot?," he can secure a new password and gain access to an account.

Agent Kowel said he cannot discuss any investigations or cases the FBI may be working on related to this kind of fraud but said it was a good time to issue the warning because the bureau is seeing a spike in suspicious online activity during the pandemic.

"We have seen a huge influx of complaints to our tipline at headquarters," he said.

A lot more people are at home and connecting with each other online and may not be aware that they are vulnerable if they share too much data on a social media platform, such as Facebook or Internet games that seem harmless.

The FBI warned against sharing any personal information such as your first car, the name of your first pet or your mother's maiden name.

The bureau recommends checking security settings to ensure they are set to the appropriate levels and to enable multi-factor authentication such as PIN numbers; a security app that provides randomly generated numbers; verification texts or emails; and fingerprints or facial recognition of the type used to unlock smart phones.

The FBI said it's especially important to take advantage of multi-factor authentication for your primary email account, any financial accounts and health records.

Anyone who has been a victim of cyberfraud is encouraged to report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at

©2020 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.