How To Avoid Facebook Fraud
Keeping your details safe on Facebook may not be as simple as you think. Here's why.
Earlier this month in Social Networking Sites Are A Fraudsters Paradise, I reported how nearly one in three social networkers are potentially putting themselves at risk from ID fraud.
So, how would a fraudster do it? And if fraud did occur, wouldn't correspondence be sent to the home address, flagging the fraud up to the real person? Surely it's not that easy to get someone's personal details in the first place?
Identify someone's identity
Unfortunately, it is remarkably easily, as the BBC demonstrated last week on Watchdog. A Facebook user called 'Amba Friend' contacted 100 people at random inviting them to be her friend, to see how much information could be acquired.
Despite knowing nothing about the person, 35 of those contacted replied to the friend request immediately -- giving Amba and the Watchdog team access to any personal details they shared on the site.
If you're reading this and feeling a bit smug because you've taken care to guard your identity on Facebook and so you think your personal details are safe, then think again. I too have taken precautions, but I would still have got caught out by this trick.
How? After all, being a reasonably sensible soul, I have altered my Facebook settings to that only people I have accepted as my friends can see my details. And if I'm even remotely unsure about the identity of my new ‘friend', then I always ask: "Who are you?". It might seem rude, but at least, I thought, it's safe.
Or is it?
What many Facebook users don't realise is that even if you think you've taken the smart move by messaging a potential ‘friend' to ask who they are before adding them, you may be automatically revealing some of your personal details.
As you probably know, Facebook allows people to contact each other through a friend request, message, or even a ‘poke' (such are the refined pleasures of virtual flirting).
By doing any of these things, you are automatically revealing your ‘Limited Profile' to the other person. If you decide not to change any of Facebook's default settings, this means that the person you contacted will be able to see your ‘Basic Info', which includes your date of birth, hometown, together with your education and work information.
To be fair, Facebook does automatically hide your contact info (such as e-mail, phone numbers and address details) from anyone apart from your friends, but in my opinion this will not deter determined fraudsters.
For example, one of my own friends has not only stated his full name on his profile, but has his date of birth, address details, mobile phone number and entire work history on display. Fraudster's Paradise or what!
If I was an expert fraudster, I could even use this information to find out even more personal details about him via the electoral roll, for example, which banks use to check your identity. Some websites will even tell me his mother's maiden name. I could then use these details to open a bank account and credit card in his name.
Of course, I would need to get hold of the credit cards and documents - which would ordinarily be sent to his home address. But what if he didn't open his post? It would be relatively easy to quickly change his address to my own after applying for a credit card or online bank account and get a new one sent out.
My point is: it only takes one slip in the chain for someone to assume your identity and start messing with your credit rating. You may well find out about it in due course -- but by then, it may be too late.
So what can avid social networkers do to prevent prying eyes from looking in the first place? Here are some tips for Facebook users:
Keep your profile private. If you don't do this then anybody in your ‘network' will be able to see your profile at the click of a button. You can change these settings by clicking on the ‘Privacy' button on the top-right hand side of the homepage.
Check your ‘Limited Profile' settings and change them accordingly. This can be done via the ‘Poke, Message and Friend Request Settings' part on the privacy section of the site.
Don't feel obliged to divulge all your personal details - even the basic ones, such as your real name.
Consider taking your name off the public electoral register (you won't lose your right to vote). You can do this by ticking the ‘opt-out' box when confirming voter registration each year, or by contacting your local council.
If you are worried you have been a victim of fraud or are in any doubt about your credit status, check your credit report, which will help you spot any irregularities, and possibly nip any potential damage to your credit rating in the bud.