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Cybersecurity experts warn against social media trending quizzes, free apps

Trending social media apps and trends can be a way for scammers and marketers to get your private information.

TAMPA, Fla. — We've learned how to do so much online. We can connect with friends, shop for pretty much anything, pay bills, waste time or even meet the love of our lives. We can also expose our private information, like access to our financial accounts if we're not careful.

Every day we read stories about data leaks and compromised customer information. We need to pay attention to those and change our passwords any time a site we use is compromised. Staying vigilant online should be something you're always doing.

"There's a lot of bad people out there, there are places where scamming people online is an industry," explained cybersecurity expert Charlotte Kibert. She is the Vice President of Customer Success and Operations at Digital Hands, a Tampa cybersecurity firm.

Kibert says that although being online is essential, you also have to be cautious about who you're giving your information to.

"When your information is put into a screen it's going somewhere you don't have control of."

One of the things she has noticed lately is the uptick of question and answer posts on Instagram stories and on Facebook. The questions could seem really innocent, just asking you the year your graduated high school, your favorite movie, your first pet, or the first car you drove. The problem is a lot of these questions are often used as security questions to recover passwords on websites, so scammers could use the information you provide in those 'quizzes' to get into important accounts like your social media profile or banking accounts, so it's best to steer clear of the quizzes (however fun they may seem!) to avoid releasing too much of your personal information.

Another thing to look out for is trending application gimmicks, like turning yourself into a renaissance painting, a cartoon or a version of yourself that's 40 years older. 

"The first thing to know when using a free app is if it's free, you're not the customer, you're the product," Kibert said. She says apps like these can allow companies that own the apps access to your phone and its activity on other apps, your location and often some personal information. It's not always used in a malicious way, but as with anything online, it can be accessed by people who aren't supposed to see your information.

"One of the challenges with the fun things on social media is that these companies are collecting your information. It could be benign to market to you, but it could also be something that can create a profile of who you are and lead bad people to important information you should keep private, like your passwords to important accounts," explained Kibert.

Another major area of concern for cybersecurity experts is your email address. You should change your password often, especially if you see a website you use that email address on has been compromised. Allowing a scammer access to your email allows them to gain access to any accounts linked to your email, from online shopping accounts to your bank accounts.

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