One of the latest identity theft scams involves using personal information to open a fraudulent Facebook account. These accounts are then used to solicit money from friends and relatives that connect to the fake account. Once the connection is made, then the identity thief will respond with an “emergency” for money to be wired to them.
For example, there may be a sudden post on your Facebook wall relating to a “robbery” while traveling abroad. At this point, there can be several concerned family member and friends who would be willing to help out. Unfortunately, the Facebook account is bogus and the money is actually being wired to the thieves who are located in another country.
The FBI has given this version of identity theft the label “social engineering”. Alice Tsujihara, an agent for the FBI, explains that social engineering fraud doesn’t require sophisticated computer hacking skills. The key is having accessibility to information concerning the victim and using other people to initiate their scam. This can be accomplished using the large amount of personal information that can be stored throughout the Internet.
Agent Tsujihara is an identity theft specialist who is assigned to the Southern California High Technology Task Force. She has noted an increase in this particular type of identity scam. She explains that the success of the scam is directly related to its believability. Facebook accounts that include personal photos (possibly stolen from a yearbook) have a high level of credibility.
Protecting yourself from Facebook identity theft scams is, in many ways, similar to protecting yourself from other online scams. The most important thing to remember is to be aware of any personal information that you place online. The information that you place online can affect you today or five years from now.
Additionally, if you don’t currently have a Facebook account, you can go to Facebook.com and check to see if an account has already been opened in your name. You can do this by using the sign-up option and entering your information. The information will be flagged as a duplicate, if this is the case.
If you already have a Facebook account, there are a number of things to keep in mind in order to prevent thieves from using your account against you.
So the question remains, “How do you protect yourself when using a Facebook account?” The first thing you should know is that Facebook does not have sophisticated identity protection measures in place. This means that you will have to be diligent when it comes to protecting your information and not expect Facebook to do it for you.
Facebook Tip #1: You can use you cell phone or VoIP number since it can be easily changed, should you start receiving unwanted calls. But it’s not a good idea to post a permanent landline number that would be a hassle to disconnect.
Facebook Tip #2: Don’t post your true date of birth. Your family and friends will probably already know when your birthday arrives. But, if you want everyone connected to your Facebook to wish you a “Happy Birthday”, just move the year up or down. For example, if your DOB is 12/4/1980, list it as 12/4/1981. This will protect your identity. But the best protection comes with changing the month and date as well as the year.
Facebook Tip #3: Never post your home address. You can always inform you family and friends of your current or new address verbally. If you need to post an address, you can use your job or school address. You can be located there and your privacy will also be protected. If you work from home, you may want to use a P.O. Box. Most people who run home businesses don’t meet with their clients at home for security, insurance and various local government legal requirements.
Facebook Tip #4: Use a photo of yourself taken from a larger photo with a natural landscape. Never use a passport photo on Facebook. Have a big smile on your face, as well. Since passport photos don’t allow smiles, it will keep thieves from using your photo to create a fake ID.
Facebook Tip #5: Don’t give out your full name (first, middle, last). Just your first name and family name is enough. Besides, how many of your friends know your full name, anyway? Better still, use a nickname or a shortened version of your name.
Facebook Tip #6: Never discuss any information on Facebook that has to do with your financial data. This includes: credit card numbers, PINs, tax file numbers and banking information. The only time you should input financial data online is on a trusted site that has a security certificate. That site should also have “HTTPS” (note the ‘S’ at the end) at the beginning of its Internet address. This indicates that your information will be encrypted.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, never trust Facebook for personal information privacy. Any change in Facebook policy or error can leave you exposed. So keep your personal information private and you’ll be protected from Identity Theft scams.