By BECKY GILLETTE
Remember your folks telling you to be careful about choosing friends?
The modern equivalent of that is, be careful when choosing friends on Facebook or other social media as some may be interested in cleaning out your bank account or opening up a credit card in your name.
There can be a tendency to be polite when receiving a friend request on Facebook, or a request to connect on LinkedIn. Maybe you don’t know the person well, or even at all. But you meet a lot of people in the course of work and social activities, and aren’t sure if you might have met them somewhere. So you accept the friend request.
Then, at times, you will find the “friend” is trying to sell you something. Even worse, the “friend” might be mining your Facebook profile data with the intention of stealing your financial identity.
Better Business Bureaus across the country report seeing a dramatic increase in complaints about the use of social media to trick people into providing personal information, which is known as “farcing.”
Farcing works by someone calling and making you think you know them by repeating info about where you went to high school or a previous job to get more information that can be used to steal your identity and\or hack into your personal financial data.
After learning about farcing, John O’Hara, CEO of Better Business Bureau of Mississippi, has culled his Facebook friends’ list down considerably, and now only shares with family members and close friends.
“I work in the scam busting business, so I’m cautious of everyone,” O’Hara said. “When I hear of people with 800 or 900 friends on Facebook or people with 500 connections on LinkedIn, do you really know these people? What are you showing out there in your profile? Where you live, where you work, the names of your kids and pets and a lot of other info. You might be posting photos of being in Disneyworld advertising to thieves that your house is open.
“It is a shame people are using social media that way, but it is something that we should be aware of.”
While most people are going to balk at providing information such as a Social Security number to some long lost high school friend, these scams wouldn’t be so popular if they didn’t hit pay dirt occasionally.
“There are a lot of lonely people out there, people who are on Facebook all day,” O’Hara said.
“When someone contacts them on Facebook, they may not be suspicious when someone wants their phone number or other information. What they don’t realize is that the friend they are communicating with on Facebook might not be who they say they are. It might not be their actual photograph, and the profile is fake.”
LinkedIn can be a valuable tool for business networking, but it isn’t a case of the more connections the better.
“I want to be available so someone can find me, so I used to have a lot of connections on LinkedIn,” O’Hara said.
“But when I realized there are security issues with social media, I cut out about 75 connections. I hope I didn’t hurt any feelings, but I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t really have a connection to them.”
O’Hara has been particularly suspicious of IT professionals from Russia and the Ukraine who try to connect with him. Those two countries are known for having a lot of online hackers.
O’Hara also recommends limiting the amount of personal information shared. Nearly everyone likes getting lots of happy birthday wishes. But having both the date and year of your birthday along with your hometown, educational background and employment history can make it too easy for scammers to get enough pieces of personal information to be harmful.
He also personally doesn’t like having a lot of info posted about his kids on Facebook including their names, photos and what schools they go to.
“We are just all being a little too free with our information,” O’Hara said.
“If you are going to share a lot of information, do it with people you really know.”
Olivia Ann Hodges, social media specialist for the University of Southern Mississippi, agrees about the need to choose social media friends wisely.
“Don’t friend anyone on a social network if you don’t personally know them,” Hodges said.
“It is also recommended to limit the number of friends you have on Facebook. You should always be cautious of people on social media that you don’t know or don’t know well. We post more things on social media than we even realize, and by accepting these friend requests, you are basically handing a stranger your personal information. Be careful what you’re posting on social media – never post your address, email address, phone number, or social security number.”
In addition to farcing, phishing is the term used to get you to disclose personal information via email or telephone. Smishing refers to deceptive text messages, and vishing refers to deceptive voice mails.
Also be aware that you might expose your friends if they receive a friend request from someone you have friended without knowing them.
“Due to your connection with them, your friend may think the phisher is a real person,” Hodges said.
Karen Barney, program director for the Identify Theft Resource Center, said ITRC tracks farcing along with other Internet scams used to steal someone’s financial identity.
In 2010, Internet issues represented about six percent of identity theft complains. By 2014 it had grown to nine percent, and through September of this year now represents 14.4 percent of complaints.
One piece of advice she has regarding photographs is to make sure to turn off the GPS settings on your photographic equipment so that is not posted online. She also recommends making your profile private with postings only available to friends. But it isn’t necessary to stop using social media at all.
“Facebook is an awesome tool,” Barney said. “It fulfills the original idea for families and friends to connect over the miles. I totally use it for that. But know how to protect yourself. It is a trick staying ahead of these guys.”
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