Feature Article
Mark Pribish
What You Need to Know About Social Media and ID Theft in the New School Year
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

As the 2010-11 school year begins for middle school, high school and college students throughout the United States parents, teachers and students need to know and/or be reminded of the risks related to social media.

According to the April 22, 2010 PC World magazine (please see PC Magazine article here), 1.5 million stolen Facebook IDs were up for sale to anyone who wanted to spam, steal or scam on Facebook.

Symantec (a leading software security solutions provider) found that email usernames and passwords were being sold in underground hacker forums ranging from $1 to $20 per account.

Based on the above, students and parents need to know and/or be reminded of the following:

  • Social media like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn (for those parents and teachers that participate in professional social media) can help create ID Theft opportunities for ID Theft thieves based on the personal information and images that are being published.
  • Social media like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn can also increase your risk of ID Theft based on your privacy settings, or lack thereof as most social media network users are unfamiliar with the status of their privacy settings and are unaware of who has access to their personal information.
  • Social media websites typically ask for and collect information that is posted on the page(s) of individuals that could lead to ID Theft like names and names of children, pets, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and the U.S. military including Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
  • Social media websites also typically ask for and collect information that is posted on the page(s) of individuals that could lead to ID theft including birth dates, maiden names, current and former employers, and phone numbers.

At a time when most of us are concerned about our personal information and invasion of privacy, social media networkers are openly releasing personal and sensitive information to the very ID Theft criminals we want to keep this information from.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our children/students from the risks of social media networking?

To begin with, I have attached a link from Sophos (another leading software security company) with recommendations on how to set your Facebook privacy options to protect against online identity theft (click here for the article) since ID fraudsters target Facebook and other social networking sites to harvest information about you and your children.

I have also listed below some basic rules to help students manage their time and support their social media networking knowledge:

  • Education read and stay up to date on social media trends and "in the news" since social media can lead to unwanted consequences if a student does not fully understand the total impact of posting personal information.
  • Choose Your Friends Carefully take extra precaution and thought on accepting someone as a friend.
  • Eliminate and Minimize Public Arguments as cyber-bullying, sexting and student conflict can be exacerbated through social media websites.
  • Illegal Acts the posting of illegal activity such as underage drinking and/or drug use can be used to implicate students.
  • Photos and Videos the posting of questionable photos and videos can negatively impact a student's relationship with a teacher and his/her school, a future job and/or acceptance to college or the U.S. Military.
  • Birth Date consider leaving out your age or birthday, as this information is used by ID Theft criminals to open up fraudulent bank or credit card accounts.
  • Google Alerts students can set up a free Google Alert for their name and get an email every time their name appears online.
  • Security Software be sure to remind your parents to have your home computer or laptop up to date with the latest security software.

To conclude, an increased understanding of some of the basic rules and risks associated with social media networking will help students (along with teachers and parents) use and enjoy Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social media networks to form study groups, find old friends, plan special events, and more.

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.


Scam Central

A Friend in Need Scam

Most of us enjoy receiving emails from our friends. Sometimes the content is exciting and full of good news, while other times it can be rather plain - and sometimes it can be downright scary.

Take for example an email recently circulated purportedly coming from "a friend" saying that he had been robbed while on vacation in London. He was robbed at gunpoint and his plane ticket, passport, credit cards and bank cards were all stolen. He was lucky enough to be able to cancel those cards quickly, but he still needed some money to get home since he no longer had access to any funds. A true friend would wire the money over to help a friend in need, right? Hang on folks this is no friend!

How It Works:

Clever identity thieves are hacking into (or in some cases purchasing) online email accounts, and in some cases Facebook accounts that utilize weak passwords and sending emails to every contact in the address book or every friend in your friends list. The emails may vary from the one mentioned above, but the motive is the same. They've been robbed and need money as soon as possible to get home. They want you to wire them a set amount of money to help pay for their hotel bills, new airline tickets, cab fares, etc. The request comes, albeit humbly, with the guarantee of repaying you as soon as they get home. But what is really happening is that you are wiring money to a thief, and you can kiss that money goodbye.

Your Defense:

Always take extreme caution when being asked for money through an email. If your friend was truly robbed while on vacation, stranded and needed to borrow money, more than likely they're not going to ask you for it in an email. A real friend would place a direct phone call, more than likely to their family first, and then to their friends.

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of this type of scam:

  • Verify that your friend is out of the country. It may seem obvious, but call your friend's house or cell phone and see if they answer, or even talk to their spouse if they are married and see if they are in fact stranded outside the country. They may not even be aware that their email account has been breached yet.
  • Examine the email carefully. Is the language and wording used the same as your friend uses? Are there misspellings in the email?
  • Challenge the author of the email. If charity or curiosity gets the better of you, and you decide to engage in conversation via email with your friend, ask them how they know you or how you both met. Verify things that only you and your friend would know.
  • Report the bogus email to your ISP. Your ISP may be able to trace the email's origin by IP address and help local law enforcement apprehend the culprit.
  • See if other mutual friends have also received the same email. More than likely, they have. They may also know what is really going on with your mutual friend, and in case they don't, you might possibly prevent them from losing money. Now that's a friend!

This is yet another reminder that identity thieves and criminals are getting smarter in their attempts to defraud anyone they possibly can. If they can't get through your firewall, they'll try your online accounts. And that is also a clear reminder of the need for stronger passwords. Weak passwords like "password" or "1234" are not going to keep you or your identity safe, whereas "!_N33d_@_p@$$W0rd" will be much harder to crack. In the end, a strong password may be what stands between your friends losing money.

For suggestions on how to create a stronger password and check the strength of your password, visit Microsoft's Password Checker here: https://www.microsoft.com/protect/fraud/passwords/checker.aspx?WT.mc_id=Site_Link.

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