How A Simple Friend Request Can Lead To Identity Theft

Consider this scenario: You're on Facebook, and you receive two friend requests, both from people you don't know. With one person, you have no mutual friends, and with the other, you have some. Do you accept either request? Both? Just the one who shares your friends?

Scammers are banking on the likelihood you'll accept the request if you have mutual friends — the more, the better — even if you have no clue who the requester is. From there, they'll have access to everything you share with friends, and they'll start friending your friends and family to see what they share. All that good stuff helps them reach their ultimate goal: identity theft. A growing trend among cybercriminals is called farcing, when strangers send friend requests on social media to steal information for fraud or identity theft.

Cybercriminals are exploiting the popularity of social media sites to worm themselves into inner social circles. Once a cybercriminal has managed to gain access to an individual’s network of friends and family, he or she can then become friends with others to pilfer their information, according to a study by the University of Buffalo.

With the personal information social media users put out on their profiles and in status updates, identity thieves could collect this data for fraudulent purpose while disguising themselves as legitimate users.

Arun Vishwanath, associate professor of communication at the University of Buffalo, conducted the study, which involved making fake Facebook profiles. He found that 1 in 5 social media users approved the fake friend requests.

One of the reasons social media users allowed them to be friends was because of their photos or list of contacts, because Facebook can show how many mutual friends users have. However, Vishwanath said those who fell for the ruse could be fooled because cybercriminals performing farcing attacks often scope out other victims from available friends’ lists.

Teens are especially vulnerable

The impact of these farcing attacks may become worse as users are increasingly sharing sensitive information, from where they work to where they live, with their friends.

Teens may be especially vulnerable to farcing attacks, because they may not protect their information as seriously as other users, according to a study by the Pew Research Internet Project.

The Pew study showed that teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media networks compared with past years. More than 7 in 10 teens said they listed their school name, and 53 percent said they posted their email address. In addition to posting these private details, 82 percent said they made their date of birth available, which is one key piece of information that could be exploited by identity thieves.

As oversharing becomes a problem on social media sites, Vishwanath warns users to be careful about who they allow to join their circle of friends.

Protecting the personal information you share online is vital to keeping your identity safe. An identity thief can use your information to open new accounts in your name, which can do massive damage to your credit.

Your best line of defense is to monitor your financial accounts regularly. It’s smart to pull your credit reports often. Any large, unexpected change in your credit scores could signal identity theft, and you should pull your credit reports to confirm.

Patricia Oliver, Credit.com
Christine DiGangi, Daily Financial

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