Do you know when it is and isn’t safe to give out personal information? Are you easily manipulated? Would you give your social security number or frequently used password to a stranger on the street? You may think you know the answers to these questions—they seem pretty obvious—but chances are, you’d be wrong. There are many people who are skilled at getting what they want out of you by simply carrying on a conversation. 

This is called social engineering. In his book, Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking, Christopher Hadnagy describes social engineering as “the art or better yet, science, of skillfully maneuvering human beings to take action in some aspect of their lives”.

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Everyone uses social engineering, and it is not inherently evil. We all use small manipulations in our daily lives to get our way—from a child convincing their parents to give them an extra snack, to a wife getting her husband to do extra chores around the house. However, “human hackers” have much more nefarious end goals. These people use psychology to trick people into giving them information which will help them to commit fraud or gain access to information they need to break into computer systems or networks. Unlike traditional hackers, social engineers use people, not machines, to gather information. This means that security measures like antivirus or firewalls are no longer effective.

Common social engineering cons involve the telephone where the hacker may pose as your credit card company, the Collections agency, or the IRS. With the rise of social media, hackers are also using your Facebook and other profiles to gather the information they need. Sometimes, even the pizza delivery guy is out to get you.

It’s important to be aware of your situation, and be overly cautious when divulging personal information. Watch out for strange callers asking for your social security or credit card information over the phone. If you’re unsure about the call, it’s best to hang up. If the caller says they are from your bank or the IRS, you can always call them directly after you hang up with the shady individual.

Watch the video: Jimmy Kimmel illustrates just how easy it is to get people to reveal personal information. 

Have you ever been the victim of social engineering or heard of someone who has? Comment below to share your story.