When Online Services Ask for Your Birthday, Protect Yourself and Lie to Them

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What's your birthday?

How about your childhood pet's name? Your first teacher? Your mother's maiden name?

Great, thank you. You just handed over everything scammers need to steal your identity.

If you've signed up for a product or service online, you've probably submitted all this information without thinking twice. Even your date of birth — it's a common way for people like debt collectors to verify your identity. But any good scammer trying to get access to your private info already has that detail — you've already given it away dozens of times.

So here's a nifty, simple privacy trick the next time a service asks for your birthday when they don't really need it: lie. 

Put down a fake name, and the next time that service is hacked, that'll be one less bit of information scammers will have about you.

Source: Mic, Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Source: Mic, Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Why lie: We often give away information that sites like Facebook and Amazon never need to know — usually, right when we sign up. Because of hacking, data brokering and the general erosion of privacy in the digital age, we never know how many people have access to that info.

"If you're buying something [online], you'll have to provide accurate billing and shipping information," CNET contributor Dennis O'Reilly wrote in 2013. "But your birthday, mother's maiden name, and other private data that could be used to identify you — or to steal your identity — should be given up strictly on a need-to-know basis."

The fine print: Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter don't want your date of birth to make sure you get precious birthday wishes — they want the data so they can sell it to advertisers. Naturally, this means that it's against their internal policies to give them fake info.

Using Facebook, for example, requires that you "not provide any false personal information on Facebook." This includes your real name, making the policy a major point of contention for members of the LGBTQ and drag communities who want to go by aliases, and are made unsafe when Facebook forces them to use their real identities.

And even though there's little chance of Facebook catching you using a fake birthday, you can get booted from a service for giving fake info. (This could become more likely if you're using a service like Tinder, which specifically prohibits people below a certain age from using it.)

Read more:
The 13 Creepiest Privacy Violations the NSA Didn't Want You to See
Lawmakers Are Finally Taking Your Privacy Seriously
Why You Should Put a Strip of Tape Over Your Laptop Camera