Beware What You Share: Misery in the 21st Century

A magnifying glass hovering over the word Privacy and other related terms such as secrety, protection, security and identity

Being an author means, at some point, you're going to interact with the public. Either in person or online. It's a must in this day and age. The goal of writing a book is to get it into the hands of readers, right?

But what if you share too much? Can that information hurt you? Possibly.

Let me tell you a story…

A few weeks ago my husband and I received an alert from our bank, saying our mailing address had been successfully updated. Since neither he nor I had moved, nor were we thinking of moving, this was a cause for alarm. So, I went online and checked and sure enough, there was an address associated with our account that I didn't recognize.

When I called to correct the error, I was told, since they ask very specific questions, ‘Only someone who knows me well could've changed my address.' The nice lady on the phone then proceeded to ask me some of these ‘very specific questions'. They were, indeed, tailored to my personal history. I asked myself who would have that information?

Then I started thinking… in normal conversation with readers, either online or in person, or from those ‘Which Halloween Warlock Are You?' quizzes on Facebook, a lot of these answers could be culled, and to a savvy criminal, stored.

Questions like:
Streets you've lived on in the past.
The color of your first car.
Roommates you've had.
Places of employment.
Your first pet's name.
Etcetera ad nauseum.

It turns out, our information wasn't taken from a random source, but, we suspect, from a past employee. The updated mailing address was associated with a fellow who had been fired just a few weeks previously. Now, we don't have proof he stole our information, but it's quite a coincidence if you ask me.

What truly terrifies me, apart from the fact that if he took our information, he could have many other people's personal and financial records, this young man was a fan. A hard-core fan of my husband. He made a point to tell me how much he admired my husband's work (he's employed in the video game industry) and even told me how he and his friends spend hours playing the games. My husband's totally low-key, so when someone fanboys on him, he just takes it in stride, but this guy, this employee of our bank, was psyched he got to meet my husband and talk to him. Like, I'm pretty sure he wanted my husband to give him an autograph. Although, now that I think about it, he did want a autograph, but not as a keepsake. For more nefarious purposes.

That's what gives me the heebie jeebies. That's what makes this feel personal. Like we were targeted.

That's also what makes me leery now of sharing too much online and in person. Who is going to steal my identity? Who is going to become a ‘super fan' and stalk me? I'm not going to stop doing signings, nor am I going to be less engaging online, but I will think about what information I'm giving out. Just the other day, I was having tea with another author and we were talking about where we grew up (close enough we should've met, but never did), and I mentioned the street I lived on as a kid. For one second, I paused, thinking, ‘this was a security question!', then continued the conversation. But caution niggled at the back of my mind. I hate that.

I don't want to have to edit myself. That's just not me. But I sure as hell don't want to have my bank accounts and identity stolen again. That sucked, for the record. We're still trying to unravel what this douchebag did, and yes, I'm nervous because this man knows where we live. I drive around looking other drivers in the eye, making sure they know I see them. Why? I have no idea. I suspect it's to feel in control again.

Because when a ‘fan' takes something from you it hurts. Deep. It's not an anonymous act carried out by some nameless face on the internet. It's someone who respected you. Someone who wanted to hurt you.

The investigation is ongoing, but when I have news to report, I will. Until then, set alerts on all of your online accounts. Banking, Paypal, Facebook, any place a would-be criminal can get your personal information. Check your credit scores with Experian. Be on top of all your online activity. And when you meet fans in person, be friendly, but don't overshare. That's my advice and what I've learned from this ordeal. I love meeting readers at events and getting to know them, so this will be tough for me, but lesson learned. Big time.

Have you ever been a victim of identity fraud? Was it someone you knew? How do you protect yourself online? We'd love to know! Please share.

14 thoughts on “Beware What You Share: Misery in the 21st Century”

  1. Debra KristiDebra Kristi

    What you went through/are going through is scary. I have no words for how horrible it could have gotten had it not be caught. Thank goodness you caught it as fast as you did. And thanks so much for sharing so that others (like me) can take action to protect themselves.

  2. Stacy McKitrickStacy McKitrick

    Thank goodness banks let you know when something changed on your account. Our VISA even notified us when they thought the tip we made on a dinner purchase seemed excessive. It was accurate, but could have easily been wrong.

    I try not to overshare on social media, but I can see now how simple things can be taken and used against you. Scary!

    One thing I do, though, is I don’t sign my books with my legal signature. Just another way to protect myself (I hope).

  3. IndyIndy

    So sorry to hear this happened to you! How scary! But thank you for sharing so we can all learn from your experience. I pay for a business mailbox address to use on my website and business cards, so I don’t have to give our my home address. And I make a point of never posting on social media that I am on a trip (hello- yes, no one is home – rob me!). I share photos after the fact. But I had never even thought about the whole book signing – signature thing! Wow! Sad we have to be so careful, but it’s the world we live in today. And thank goodness the banks are so good about letting us know when suspicious stuff happens! Hope you get everything cleared up quickly ~

  4. Rebekah LoperRebekah Loper

    Eesh, so glad you avoided serious issues!

    I usually go for the more obscure security questions anyway, and I don’t talk about the non-obscure potential security answers much anyway, because in some cases they’re things that are still current. Like the fact that my parents still live in my childhood home, so I’m not going to broadcast their home street on my facebook or blog. Though my first job is one I don’t really talk about, so I’ll use that security question. It was a complicated job with a not-well-known company, so I just usually skip to my second job when people are asking about things like that, lol.

  5. Rissa WatkinsRissa Watkins

    Sucks this happened to you but good thing you caught it so quick.

    This isn’t my real name. It is my pen name that I decided to use for anything online as well. I am paranoid.

    I never do those quiz things online either because you are giving out personal info- even those seemingly harmless memes that ask you to post who your childhood best friend was gives out too much info.

  6. HiDeeHiDee

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience, and hope it will all be resolved soon. Thank you for sharing these suggestions on how to avoid problems. I’m also glad to read the signature suggestion – I never thought about that!

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