Beware What You Share: Misery in the 21st Century
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.
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.