‘Tis the Season for Facebook Identity Theft

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During this holiday season, is it better to give or receive? Scrooge may have learned his lesson, but for identity thieves, it’s neither–they prefer to take, and their latest winter wonderland for victims is Facebook.

Having surpassed 800 million users worldwide, there are plenty of potential targets on Facebook for crooks to go after. Knowing how they go about their schemes will help you be more informed about protecting yourself from Facebook identity theft and similar fraud on other social media websites.

Holidays Have History Of Crime Spikes

Even before the advent of social media like Facebook, the holiday season has always brought an increase in crime. People that are down on their luck sometimes resort to becoming a Grinch during the holiday season.

In a desperate attempt to create a better holiday for themselves or their family, they resort to crimes such as bank robberies or shoplifting at retail stores. Whereas banks and stores have tight security measures and insurance to protect themselves against these crimes, an individual Facebook user that shares a lot of personal information online has little protection.

Major Companies Experience Personal Data Theft

Identity theft was the number one complaint recorded by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010. It is a crime that has become an epidemic in the United States. Despite the implementation of better data security standards, news headlines like the real samples below have become commonplace:

Data Theft Hits 3.3 Million Borrowers at Educational Credit Management Corp.

Chicago Michaels Stores Reporting Data Theft

CVS Latest Retailer Cited For Identity Theft Violation

Identity Fraud Victims Exposed To Financial Losses

U.S. households suffered about $13.3 billion in direct financial losses due to identity fraud in 2010. Among households with losses of at least one dollar, the average loss was about $2,200, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Although you may have been lucky enough to avoid being affected by data breeches at big companies like the ones in the headlines above, you may be exposed to an even scarier form of identity fraud taking place much closer to home: Your Facebook profile.

‘Tis the Season for Facebook Identity Theft

There are two main types of Facebook identity fraud.

The type which can affect most people is when the personal information you share on Facebook is used to perpetrate a crime. Common pieces of information that people share on their Facebook pages include:

  • birthday
  • home address
  • travel dates and itinerary
  • employer name
  • pet & children’s names

How Criminals Use Your Facebook Page Against You

Some pieces of personal information may seem innocent enough on the surface, but you have to think like a criminal. For example, pet names and children’s names are often used as passwords.

Just like Santa has his elves help him build toys, criminal rings employ people whose job it is to hack your online accounts.  If they learn that your dog’s name is Rover from your Facebook account, they will take that information and try dozens of password variations such as rover123, 123rover, roverxyz, iloverover, etc.

Facebook passwords are not case sensitive so it makes it even easier for crooks to hack your account. In some cases, people use the same password for multiple accounts so it makes it easy for hackers to take over your Yahoo! or other online email accounts, too.

Likewise, many people use their mobile phones to take pictures and upload them to Facebook in real time while they are traveling. This information is a clear indication to criminals that you are not home.

Plus, if you share your home address on your Facebook profile, it becomes an open invitation for crooks to try to break-in. As tempting as is it is to share photos while you are on vacation, unless you have really tight security where you live, consider waiting until you get home to share information about your trip.

Facebook Crimes Against People Without Accounts

The second type of Facebook crime is against people who do not even have a Facebook account.

Without ever knowing it, you could download a worm or virus to your computer which allows a crook to find your e-mail address on Yahoo! or other websites you use. Then they set up a Facebook account in your name and pretend they are you. If you have any pictures posted online, a crook could easily reuse one of them as your Facebook profile picture.

For example, using a fake Facebook profile, a crook could post a message to your Facebook friends that you are traveling and just got mugged leaving you with no cash and to please send money right away to you via Western Union.

In addition to using Facebook, the crook could also e-mail the same message to your entire email address book if you store that in Yahoo! or other email service. How would your friends really know if it’s real or not without speaking to you?

5 Tips To Help Prevent Facebook Identity Theft

Facebook is a powerful and really fun tool that millions of people enjoy using.  Although there are risks, do not be afraid to enjoy Facebook as long as you take reasonable measures to protect your personal information.

1. Change your passwords frequently: Not just Facebook, but other websites you use often which store personal information such as your email address and photos.

2. Never click on unknown email links: This is something to stress to anyone, including children, who shares a computer. It is common for people you know to get their e-mail accounts infected with a virus, which sends out messages to their address book containing dangerous links.

3. Use strong password recovery questions: Weak password recovery questions are an easy way for crooks to take over e-mail and social media accounts. Password recovery questions that may appear strong often are not when the attacker is close to you like a scorned ex-spouse, or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend.

4. Adjust your Facebook privacy settings: Take time to read through your personal Facebook privacy settings and make adjustments to your comfort level. This task may not be as fun as uploading a picture of your dog wearing reindeer antlers, but you will gain more control over what people can access. You can edit these setting to control who sees the information on your Facebook timeline and profile.

5. Use Facebook controls on the fly: Whenever you add things to your profile such as photos and wall posts, you can select a specific audience, or even customize your audience.

Recovering From Facebook Identity Theft

If you fall victim to identity fraud through Facebook or other online profile, getting the provider to help you regain control of it can be extremely difficult. Your best course of action is to shut down your online accounts. Do not even try to salvage the same account–it is easy enough to set-up a new profile with fresh credentials.

Losing control over your Facebook account is worse than a lump of coal in your stocking. Take a few minutes to review what information you have available on your Facebook profile and your personal privacy settings. This small investment of your time can help prevent you from becoming the recipient of an unwanted present of identity theft this holiday season.