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.
It’s called farcing, and a researcher at the University of Buffalo published a study on it in “Information Systems Frontier,” saying these scams spread quickly and widely, as the scammer gathers friends and appears more legitimate.
What Is Farcing?
Farcing happens in two stages, wrote researcher Arun Vishwanath. The first stage is friending. Stage two involves the scammer requesting information from the new friends, aka phishing, the practice of acquiring information through seemingly legitimate means. In Vishwanath’s study, people’s decisions to accept the friend request (part one) relied on the number of mutual friends and the photo of the requester. People were more likely to accept requests from people with more mutual friends.
“Such profiles caused an upward information cascade, where each victim attracted many more victims through a social contagion effect,” Vishwanath wrote. “Individuals receiving a level 2 information request on Facebook peripherally focused on the source of the request by using the sender’s picture in the message as a credibility cue.”
The study used four fake Facebook profiles: one with no photo and no mutual friends, one with a photo and no friends, one with 10 connections and no photo, and one with a photo and 10 mutual friends. Each profile was male, and the photos were considered averagely attractive, Vishwanath said to the University of Buffalo Reporter.
How to Avoid Farcing
Farcing has been used on a variety of social networks (this study focused on Facebook), and people have used it to bully others, steal identities, spy on others and acquire child pornography. Avoiding it requires exercising caution on social media.
First, you should be careful about what you share online, but beyond that, it’s unwise to connect with someone you don’t know. If the friend request appears to come from someone you have met, you may want to confirm their identity before sharing anything with them, because impersonation isn’t unheard of.
Everyone on social media is at risk for identity theft — it’s a reality of today’s technology and ubiquitous Internet use — so make the effort to secure your personal information. Monitor your accounts (social and financial) for unauthorized use, and check your credit regularly to make sure no fraud is occurring in your name. Your credit score can help you spot fraud, because a sudden, significant change in score may indicate unauthorized activity. You can track changes in your credit scores by reviewing them monthly, which you can do for free on Credit.com.
More on Identity Theft:
- 3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
- The Risks You Face From Identity Theft
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?