Have you ever accepted a random friend request on Facebook? Maybe from someone who looks a little bit familiar but you can’t quite place, or someone who is a friend of a friend, or even just someone who looks potentially attractive? Everyone has probably been guilty of clicking “Accept” at least once with nary a thought to the consequences. In all likelihood, you’ll just end up with an annoying person who constantly pops up on your newsfeed until you can’t take it anymore and subsequently unfriend him or her. Worst case scenario, though—you become a victim of identity theft.
Think of all the information you have posted on Facebook, currently or in the past. (If we are to believe The Rumpus’ interview with an anonymous Facebook employee, it’s all retained on servers regardless of deletion – see link below.) Most people have trended away from revealing phone numbers and addresses, but still have full birthdates and email addresses listed. Combined with first name, last name, schools (often middle, high, and university, with graduation dates), current and past employers, links to names of siblings, parents, and children, residence, and more, that’s a significant amount of data all in one, easily accessible place.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about privacy settings on Facebook, but are people utilizing them to the fullest? Do users understand the complexities involved? When the privacy controls shifted in the not-so-distant past, photos, for instance, were left open by default to friends and networks, meaning that anyone in, say, all of San Francisco could see your pictures. How is this relevant to identity theft? Well, assuming you accepted that dashing fellow with the winsome grin you maybe remembered as a friend-of-a-cousin-twice-removed-and-from-out-of-state and allowed him to see everything detailed above, he could, in theory, have quite the jumping off point for identity fraud.
The situation is more prevalent than one might think. Sophos, a computer security company, created fake profiles for, among others, a plastic frog and rubber duck (the Daisy Feletin of the title). Between 41 and 49 percent of invitees accepted the frog and duck’s request for friendship. Draw your own conclusions, and read more here (link to article).
The Rumpus “Conversations About the Internet #5: Anonymous Facebook Employee” http://therumpus.net/2010/01/conversations-about-the-internet-5-anonymous-facebook-employee/?full=yes
Lifehacker “Accepting Friend Requests from People You Don’t Know Is a Recipe for ID Theft” http://lifehacker.com/5421597/accepting-friend-requests-from-people-you-dont-know-is-a-recipe-for-id-theft