When most people imagine an identity thief, they imagine a young, bespectacled hacker, hunched over a computer while typing in computer commands, possibly wearing a black turtleneck. In reality, most private data theft is remarkably low-tech.

Private data theft usually happens because the victim shares valuable information with the thief. Very little “hacking” is actually involved, since the victim is voluntarily posting their private information. Our tendency to “overshare” on social media can make us targets for private data theft.

Here are a few examples of theft by oversharing:

  • Tom posts online frequently about his coworkers. A thief uses the information to call specific people at his work, pretending to be tech support. At least one employee is fooled, sharing their login and passwords.
  • Richard posts his vacation plans online, bragging about his ocean view. An acquaintance now knows when Richard will be gone. The thief burgles Richard’s home, stealing Richard’s laptop and tax returns.
  • Harold writes a blog about his personal life. An identity thief reads the posts, eventually figuring out Harold’s first pet, his elementary school, and even his mother’s maiden name. The thief uses this information to get through the security questions on Harold’s bank account.

How should you protect your private data and tax information online? Here are some easy tips:

  1. Assume everything you put on social media is public information. Basically, if you aren’t comfortable having it read aloud on the nightly news, don’t post it.
  2. Don’t post private data, which includes things like your social security number, driver’s license number, address, phone number, biometric data, mother’s maiden name or anything else that can be used for a log-in.
  3. Don’t post your schedule, list planned vacation dates or use the “check-in at location” functions on apps. These can let people know your routines, when you are away from home, and when you are vulnerable to theft.


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Clergy Financial Resources serves as a resource for clients to help analyze the complexity of clergy tax law, church payroll & HR issues. Our professionals are committed to helping clients stay informed about tax news, developments and trends in various specialty areas.

This article is intended to provide readers with guidance in tax matters. The article does not constitute, and should not be treated as professional advice regarding the use of any particular tax technique. Every effort has been made to assure the accuracy of the information. Clergy Financial Resources and the author do not assume responsibility for any individual’s reliance upon the information provided in the article. Readers should independently verify all information before applying it to a particular fact situation, and should independently determine the impact of any particular tax planning technique. If you are seeking legal advice, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.

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