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Why You Should Think Twice Before Taking an Online Quiz

Your answers to ‘fun’ personal questions can help criminals steal your identity

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While scrolling Facebook, a quiz catches your eye: “Answer these questions and see which ‘Winnie the Pooh’ character matches your personality,” for example, or “What dog breed would you be?” You’re asked to name your first pet, favorite ice cream or top vacation destination. Revealing such trivia seems harmless — just fun chitchat with friends — so you dive in.

But that haste could cost you.

“Online quizzes on social media are kind of a recipe for disaster for identity theft,” says Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Chicago office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If, for example, you share the name of your childhood pet, you may be disclosing part of one of your passwords, he cautions.

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Your responses might even match your answers to the security questions you use to log in to your online accounts. Divulge the name of the street where you grew up, and you might unwittingly assist bad actors trying to access your credit report, Bernas says.

Your first car, your hobby, your high school — such answers are frequently used for online account security, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which recently issued an alert about staying vigilant when a personality test, survey or quiz shows up on your social media feed.

‘Death by 1,000 little cuts’

Even if there’s nothing inherently malicious about an online quiz, someone eventually gets your answers, says Christopher Budd, a senior manager for the global cybersecurity firm Sophos.

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Maybe that person doesn’t know how to secure the data — or loses track of it — and it descends into the dark web, a marketplace for cybercriminals. There your responses can be combined with other information, including passwords, that was shaken loose in a data breach.

The bottom line: Social media quizzes are “great at harvesting information that can be used against you,” says Budd. “We’re reaching a point with big data, with data analytics, with machine learning, with all of this, where each discrete little piece of data about you that seems harmless in and of itself, when combined, collated and analyzed, can be used effectively to build that comprehensive profile.” He calls it “death by 1,000 little cuts.”

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Once profiles are assembled, Budd explains, they “can be put up for sale, they can be used for identity theft, they can be used for impersonation. There’s a degree to which it’s the attacker’s choice.”

More advice on staying safe online

  • Never share information online that you would not want to be made public. No matter how cautious you are, the information can fall into the wrong hands.
  • Adjust account privacy settings. Be cautious about information you post and with whom you are sharing it.
  • When accounts require security questions, treat your answers like passwords by making them random and long. The FTC even suggests you fib and say, for example, that your mother’s maiden name is “Parmesan” (or another word you’ll remember).
  • Remove personal details from your social media profiles such as your phone number and home address.
  • Monitor friend requests, and don’t accept requests from people you don’t know. Be wary of a second request from an existing online friend; the second request may be from an impostor trying to access your data and list of friends.
Video: Think Twice Before Taking an Online Quiz

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