Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Beware of ID theft for Social Networking Service users

Interesting article from The West Australian that should serve as a warning:

"Facebook users at risk of ID theft: watchdog
24th October 2007, 7:30 WST

Facebook users are putting themselves at serious risk of identity theft, they were warned today.

Posting just a handful of personal details on the website can give fraudsters all the information they need.

Armed with information found on your Facebook page, they can open bank accounts and credit cards in your name.

BBC1 consumer show Watchdog conducted an experiment by setting up a fictional identity on Facebook.

The Watchdog team created a user called “Amba Friend”, accompanied by a cartoon picture of an attractive girl in her 20s.

“Amba” then contacted 100 people at random inviting them to be her friend.

Despite knowing nothing about the person, 35 of those contacted replied immediately - giving “Amba” and the Watchdog team access to any personal details they shared on the site.

One of them was Scott Gould, 23, from Devon.

His Facebook entry contained his date of birth and home town.

The team used these clues to find more information about Scott on other publicly available internet sites.

They were then able to open an online bank account in his name and successfully apply for a credit card.

The scam will be seen in tonight’s episode of the show.

When contacted by Watchdog, a shocked Gould said: “I’m very surprised about what you managed to do. I didn’t think it would be possible and I’ve seen with my own eyes what you’ve done with that little bit of information.”

Internet security expert Tom Ilube helped with the experiment.

He said: “It used to take two to three weeks to get enough information to steal an identity. Now it takes two to three hours.

“The reality is that for three out of 10 people, it would be easy to steal their identity.

“That’s why what we’re seeing is a growing number of fraudsters who specialise in online ID fraud, because it’s that easy to do.

“Starting with the social networking sites they don’t actually need a lot of information to build up your identity.”

Such sites - which also include MySpace and Bebo - are expected to have 230 million members worldwide by the end of the year, according to Watchdog.

It is possible to protect your privacy by adjusting your settings, but many users fail to do this.

A Watchdog spokeswoman said: “A lot of people using Facebook are trying to increase the size of their network and want to have as many friends as possible - to the point where they’ll befriend people they don’t even know.

“The program will show what easy prey they are for identity thieves."

So all ye social networking addicts, beware what you reveal in your profile pages. Don't dish out too many personal details. If you are still not convinced the danger of ID theft, watch the movie "The Net".

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