Congrats — you did it! Whether you’re graduating high school, college or graduate school, there’s lots to celebrate. You’ve worked hard to earn your diploma or degree, spending years studying for exams, keeping up with your coursework and writing research papers, or even a thesis, to reach the goal you’ve accomplished today.
Now that the finish line is finally within reach, all you want to do is talk about your graduation and celebrate this milestone. So, when a bunch of your friends are sharing their senior photos and joining graduation contests on Facebook, Instagram or other social media platforms, you may think it’s harmless to do the same. Unfortunately, though, posting a senior portrait with your graduation year and the name of your school on a public platform can lead you right into a scam.
Here’s what you need to know about grad photo scams and how to play it safe.
How the scams play out
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning this year’s graduates not to post their senior pictures on any public social media platforms. Scammers and hackers, they explain, are surfing these sites and looking for new targets. They may search for popular graduate hashtags, such as #Classof2021, or #grad21 to easily find what they need. When they see a grad photo with a graduation year and the name of a school, they can take this information, which is commonly used for security questions, and look up more details about the target, or even hack into private accounts. Once they’ve completed this step, they can pull off identity theft and more.
The BBB warns graduates to be careful even when sharing photos with trusted friends. While it may seem like you’re only sharing a photo with your friends, they can reshare it with another friend, who can reshare it with another, and before you know it, your photo may be shared with thousands of people you don’t even know.
There are also lots of trending post-your-list-of-favorites contests for graduates that can be used to help scammers in their work. In these contests, graduates are asked to share their senior portrait along with a list of favorites, such as their favorite songs or music artist, cars they’ve owned, or the names of their best friends. This information can also be unknowingly seen by scammers and used for identity theft and more.
How to stay safe
The BBB offers the following tips to help graduates and others keep safe on social media:
Only share your graduate photos privately with friends. Be careful not to post your photo on any public forum and to ask your friends not to share it with others.
Don’t join any grad photo contests that compromise your privacy. You can read others’ responses, but don’t participate in a contest that may be unsafe.
Review and adjust your security settings. Make sure the security settings on your devices are updated to the latest versions and adjusted to the strongest settings. Similarly, keep your social media settings private and secure.
Consider changing your passwords and security questions. If you believe you may have unknowingly shared sensitive information with scammers, mitigate any possible fallout by changing the passwords on your accounts, as well as the security questions used to access the codes.
If you find evidence of fraud, let your credit union know as soon as possible so it can place a fraud alert on your accounts. It’s also a good idea to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.
Graduation is a super-exciting milestone and achievement. Unfortunately, though, scammers are exploiting this life event to access sensitive information, which can be used to crack open accounts and pull off identity theft. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!