Written by John Szozda
July 02, 2009
Somewhere someone is compiling a file on you.
They may already have your full name, your birthday and your address. They may know the music you like, the food you eat. They may know your daily schedule, where you work and if you hate your boss. They may know where you bank and where you are going on vacation.
Ironically, if you are on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, you may have given them this information which may be used against you to steal your money or ruin your credit.
This is the dark side of social networking, according to David Gewirtz, a cyber terrorism advisor and former professor of computer science.
Gewirtz doesn’t want to scare you back to snail mail and a land line, but he does want you to know there are bad guys out there and they are talented and organized.
Identity theft was the number one complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission in 2008. The FTC handled 313,982 such complaints, 26 percent of all consumer complaints. Credit card fraud was the most common and the FTC claims last year’s losses to legitimate businesses totaled more than $1.8 billion.
Social networking sites with their lode of personal information are becoming the new gold mine for many criminals. Gewirtz explains, “There are three or four pieces of personal identifying information used to construct a verification of who you are--usually your social security number, your birthday and where you were born. This sounds creepy, but it’s true, there are a number of ad hoc organizations running throughout Eastern Europe and China that put together “profile packs” on individuals. You can buy 500 to 1,000 profile packs which consist of aggregated data about individuals that can be used to apply for credit cards or loans in that person’s name. In essence, it’s an identity theft nightmare.”
There are two types of criminals working here—the gatherers and the reapers. The gatherers use custom-built software to search the Internet and capture such information as the last four digits of your social security number, your city, your mother’s maiden name, etc. They put together the profile packs and sell them to the reapers who use the information to open up accounts in your name or to clean out your bank account, Gewirtz says.
“It’s actually turnkey crime and it’s freaky,” he adds.
Gewirtz says you can minimize the potential damage. Don’t click on links. Don’t open attachments from unknown sources. Use secure sites and keep your Twitter and Facebook sites private. If you haven’t signed up for a private site, you have been defaulted to an open site where your information is available to the world.
Your financial well-being is not the only thing threatened by careless social networking. Your reputation, your chances for a dream job and even your safety can be in jeopardy.
Gewirtz gives one example of how a careless decision could have affected his reputation and career. He was quick to accept new “friends” when he first opened his social networking accounts. He thought they would help promote his books and articles. “Friends,” for those who don’t know, are people who either know you personally or may not know you at all but share a similar taste, for instance, in music, hobbies or authors. One such “friend” was a member of the communist party. He was not exactly someone Gewirtz, a counter terrorism consultant, thought he should associate with, even at a superficial level. Gewirtz has since “unfriended” 60 to 70 percent of his contacts on his various sites.
Be aware that your “friends” and the photos and comments you post are a reflection of you. Gewirtz cautions that while party pictures and off-color humor might seem harmless these are archived and many human resource managers search social network sites when doing due diligence before hiring someone.
Sending a message to friends on Twitter can also cause problems. Gewirtz tells the story of a young woman who applied for a job at a major corporation. After the interview, she “Tweeted” that she was torn between the high salary offered and the fact she didn’t like the company. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to make that decision. The company’s tech staff had created a program to search for negative statements about the company. It didn’t take long to determine who sent the Tweet.
One of the fastest growing cyber-crimes is using a social network site or Twitter to broadcast an emergency scenario and ask friends to wire money. The perpetrator has already gathered enough personal information about you as well as your contacts to make the dire request sound legitimate.
One final note: Some cell phones have a GPS system, which pinpoints where a person is. Twitter users typically describe what they are doing at any given moment. This gives criminals insight into the Tweeter’s daily habits and makes them easier targets. Hit the jackpot at a Las Vegas Casino and a Tweeter can bet his friends and the feds aren’t the only ones listening.
Be careful out there.
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