Someone’s Watching You

Planning to take out a loan? Or looking for that next job opportunity? Better check your social media activity.

A recent trend for prospective employers is to check job applicants’ social media profiles. Did you also know credit bureaus and payment agencies may begin monitoring consumers’ activity as well?

What are they looking for?
Equifax, PayPal, and Intuit all announced pilot projects this year to delve into public social media profiles. The pilots will determine if mining social media data — posts, photos, check-ins, and more — helps these businesses make better decisions.

Is a consumer living beyond his means? Pictures posted on his Facebook page showing off a pricey vacation, a fancy new car, or other big-ticket purchases may point to “yes.” That information may be helpful in determining whether to extend credit to that individual.

Detecting fraud is another potential use of social media data. Some companies, for instance, monitor social media to verify identities of individuals and businesses. Making sure an individual or business is legitimate can help to prevent theft of credit card and other payment data — and could even protect consumers from full-blown identity theft.

What can they see?
Companies trolling social media sites can only see public information. If your Facebook page is completely private, they can’t see your photos, posts, or friends.

That said, many people think they’ve locked down their Facebook profiles but haven’t. The large majority of Twitter accounts are also open for all to see, and LinkedIn leaves a very traceable work history. People can also leave trails in online forums, reviews, and blogs.

What you can do
If you don’t want credit bureaus — or anyone else — snooping through your personal information on social media, here’s what you can do:

  • Check your privacy settings. Go to each of your social media sites and carefully check your privacy settings. Select the most restrictive settings so people you don’t know can’t see any of your information.
  • Delete anything — photos, posts, check-ins, etc. — you wouldn’t want someone else to see. Even if you’ve locked down your social media profiles, it’s still a good idea to remove anything you don’t want to be viewed publicly.
  • Be (very) careful about what you post in the future. This also includes posts outside of social media. Online reviews, blog comments, and other content also live forever online.

A good way to check your online data is to look at your social media profile(s) without logging in. Then you’ll be able see to the same view these companies can.

Over time, it’s likely that more businesses and organizations will use information gleaned from social media (and the rest of your digital footprint) to make decisions. Start now to clean up your profiles and keep your private information private.

Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc.