Mark Pribish

Social Networking, Privacy and ID Theft

By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

Can you imagine giving complete strangers full access to use your personal information about your job, residence, family, financials, children and even family photos or telling a robber the best time to rob you? Stop imagining and let this be a wakeup call, because too many of us are enabling ID theft criminals in these exact ways every day.

Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of telling the world personal information like our date of birth or when and where we are traveling. This makes it much too easy for the "bad guys" as this type of information enables ID theft criminals to victimize us.

Most of us are also guilty of accepting the "terms and conditions" and ignoring the "privacy settings" of social networks without our full knowledge and understanding of these terms and privacy settings. If we did read them we might think twice about our membership status because social media and networking sites can exploit and distribute our content.

Social Media

As a LinkedIn member I am guilty of not reading the terms and conditions, as I recently learned in a May 13, 2014 Money/CNN article titled 8 worst terms of service ever where a "91-word sentence of legal mumbo jumbo in LinkedIn's terms of service, says the social network has permission to do whatever it wants with your stuff. Voice a great idea? A groundbreaking invention? The company can just take it."

According to the Money/CNN article, "the company has permission to claim anything you share on the professional networking service -- even indirectly -- and change it, share it or profit from it. That even applies in ways that haven't even been discovered or invented yet. Talk about an open-ended contract."

Sound scary? It's not just LinkedIn. Every social networking site has terms and conditions that might make you hesitate about which site(s) you choose to become a member of and what type of personal or professional information you share.

This means we need to change our behavior and limit the detailed personal information that we share. For example, every time you add new information to a social network - ranging from posts, blogs, tweets or the sharing of photos and images - you create and leave the equivalent of an electronic fingerprint. This electronic print is exactly what ID theft criminals are looking for to piece together information to fraudulently use your identity.

We also need to be more diligent in accepting professional connections or friends from individuals we do not know. While there is a temptation to be connected professionally to someone with a big title or to be a friend to someone who knows everyone, the existence of fake LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook accounts is increasing every day.

One of the purposes of fake social network users is to gather data - our sensitive data. Fake profiles can help hackers and ID Theft criminals steal e-mail addresses, Twitter handles and other information where member data is fraudulently used.

To be clear, social networking is a good thing and allows us the opportunity to grow and maintain valued relationships. Just be aware of the risks involved.


To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Cell Phone Credit Crashing Con

There are times in life when people need you to help out. For example, your widowed mother who lives on a budget can't afford a cell phone. Being the good child that you are, you offer to pay for her cell phone so that she can feel safer while she's driving, grocery shopping, etc. Or perhaps your college graduate doesn't have good enough credit to purchase their laptop. So, you buy them a laptop or co-sign on a loan. Sometimes we help out extended family, or even friends who are down on their luck. That's just our human nature.

What would you do if a complete stranger approached you with cash and asked you to purchase a few cell phones and activate them for him? He's down on his luck and can't get a phone plan because he has bad credit. Would you buy the phones? If you answered yes, please send me your name and address so I can have you buy me one too! As you may have suspected, this is a complete scam.

How It Works:

According to an FTC article, you are approached by what is known as a "recruiter", which is another term for this scammer. They ask you to purchase a few phones under separate contracts and bring those phones back to them. All you have to do is cancel the contract in the allotted period and you get your money back, and you would really be helping them out. When you do return with the phones, you are paid for the phones and then reminded to cancel the contracts.

As a consumer, you have anywhere from 15 to 30 days to cancel your new contract. All contracts are different, so be sure to read the fine print. However, in the case of phone contracts, you must also return the phone that was purchased at the time contract was opened. A fact the recruiter failed to mention. Without the phone, the contract cannot be cancelled, and you are left with a monthly service bill for each phone you purchased. If you don't pay the contract, the account goes to collection, and your credit will take the hit. With bad credit, you may not be able to purchase items on credit in the future, including automobiles, homes, utilities, insurance, etc.

You may be wondering: why does this recruiter want those phones if they won't receive any additional money from you or the phone company? And, why did they pay you to bring them the phones in the first place? Aren't they losing money on this deal? The answer has to do with unlocking the phone. Each phone has a security lock (a piece of software code) that restricts the phone for use on a specific carrier's network. If you can remove that lock, you can use that phone on any carrier, and unlocked phones can sell for big money on the street. The recruiter may have paid you $150 for each phone, but they'll make 2 to 3 times that selling it to someone else. That's why they want the phones.

Your Defense:

I hate to point out the obvious, but don't buy anyone you don't know a phone! Even if you know the individual, you should be judicious in your decision to help them out. If you can't afford to make the payments when they end up failing to pay, don't buy the phone, period. Your friend or loved one will just have to do without.

If some stranger on the street approaches you and tries to recruit you into buying them a phone, get out of there and alert the local authorities and the FTC. If you have already became a victim of this crime, contact the FTC at this address: http://www.ftc.gov/complaint. They want to know all about it, and they can help take down this scammer before they take advantage of someone else.

You work hard for your money. Don't let someone preying on your sympathies ruin all your hard work.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.