Why Are You Still Being Asked “What is Your Mother’s Maiden Name?”

This outdated security question is a powerful reminder to beef up your electronic security

If you’ve called your bank recently, you may have heard these words:

“For security purposes, what is your mother’s maiden name?”

Whenever I hear this phrase, I think “What??!!”

Let’s face it, this is not a secure question in today’s technology and social media age.

This exact security question has been in existence since the late 1800s. The question is convenient and people will always remember the answer, however, it is outdated and has no place in today’s list of security questions.

10 minutes or less to find your mother’s maiden name

Hackers must love Facebook. It is a gold mine of information.

People give their information away readily and freely on this social media platform. If they are not super security conscious or are a newbie in technology, the information may be shared with everyone on the platform, not just Facebook “friends.”

So, with all of this information, how easily can people find maiden names?

I tried it. A few clicks on Facebook and I can find my mother’s maiden name. These were the simple steps:

  1. Navigate to my Facebook profile (“About” section)
  2. Click on “Family and Relationships”
  3. I see my sisters listed. No mother listed, but that’s not a problem. Click on one of my sisters.
  4. Voila! My sister lists our mother! Click on that profile.
  5. My mother doesn’t list her maiden name, but she does list her high school and graduation year on her profile.
  6. Do an online search for the high school name and graduation year and find a few websites with online yearbooks and class directories.
  7. Search my mother’s first name on the online yearbook and ta-da! I find my mother’s maiden name.

This took less than five minutes.

I know, I know…it’s easy to find this information for myself, but I also found this information easily for random strangers. People that aren’t even my social media friends.

I don’t demonstrate how easy this is so you can try to steal people’s identity. I do this as a warning to you. Protect your information on Facebook and other social media sites.

It’s not only a matter of what you share publicly, it is also what your family shares publicly.

It’s not just your profile, but also your posts. In the event of a family death, it’s tempting to share the obituary to celebrate the life of that loved one. However, sharing an obituary to your newsfeed might not be harmless. It is another connection between yourself and the information found in the article. Many obituaries list maiden names and surviving family members.

Facebook and social media are just a jumping-off point to other information-rich online resources.

  • Online yearbooks and class directories have searchable full yearbooks (for example, classmates.com and e-yearbook.com).
  • Ancestry.com can help people to connect to their past, but with a free trial or a subscription, you can find shared family trees.
  • Public records online and online white pages

These resources start harmless and with good intentions, but be aware that your information exists publicly, and not all those who search might have good intentions.

A little bit of information about you can go a long way on the world wide web.

Why is this so important?

We spend so much time working and saving hard-earned income. We build our savings and investments. We plan for our life post-working. An extraordinary amount of time and planning goes into all of this.

So why leave yourself open to the risk of identity theft? Why leave your bank accounts exposed?

This antiquated “security question” should be a reminder that we are the only ones truly responsible for our own online security. So, take a fraction of the time you’ve spent building your savings and make a plan for your security.

What can you do?

Luckily, this security question is not used in isolation. It is usually combined with another piece of information, like a recent transaction or the total balance in your bank account.

However, every time you hear this question, it should serve as a reminder to revisit your online presence.

This spring is an opportune moment to revisit your online security. While you are logging in to your banks to gather 1099s for tax season, take a few minutes and check your security preferences. Do simple things like change your password and update security questions.

Here are some things that you can do to make your online footprint a little more secure:

  1. Call your bank and ask if they can change the security question asked to you when you call. Hey, it’s worth a shot!
  2. Check your security questions for online banking. Many times you choose these questions. Choose a question that is obscure, but memorable.
  3. Look at the family members you list on Facebook. You can hide these from everyone or choose to only show the relationships to friends. Keep track of what your family members are listing and posting.
  4. If your mother lists her maiden name or high school, urge her to delete this information (for her sake and yours). Look out for members of your family that are more technologically illiterate. They can also be your weak link.
  5. While you’re editing your Facebook profile, you might want to hide your birth date, hometown, and high school as well. Sometimes school mascots are a security question. This information can also be used to find out more about you with other online sites.
  6. Always use complex passwords, especially for email and online banking. Consider using a password manager.
  7. Today, there are breaches galore. Tools like Firefox Monitor and Have I Been Pwned allow you to check which breaches your email address appears. Make sure you quickly change the passwords of these accounts.

Just remember, no one will protect your data if you don’t. If you are on a path towards financial freedom, you cannot dismiss security. Lax security can be a major risk to your portfolio and your identity.

Reformed banker, writer, mom, DIYer…in no particular order. I write about finance, parenting, and other things on my mind. twitter.com/lanethe8th

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