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The Scary Way a Friend Request Can Lead to Identity Theft

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As millions of users log into Facebook every day and send requests to join others’ social media networks, there are some friends that will quickly turn out to be enemies. A growing trend among cybercriminals is called farcing — or 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 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 that involved making fake Facebook profiles. He found that one in five social media users approved the fake friend requests. One of the reasons why social media users allowed them to be friends was due to their photos or list of contacts as 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 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, as they may not protect their information as seriously as other users, according to a study by Pew Research Internet Project. Teens and children are often victims of identity theft because they have clean credit histories, and social media networks could provide another easy avenue for identity thieves to steal their information.

The Pew study showed teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media networks compared to past years. More than 7 in 10 teens said they listed their school name and 53% said they posted their email address. In addition to posting these private details, 82% 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 (you can get one free annual report from each of the three major credit bureaus). Also, you can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com. Any large, unexpected change in your credit scores could signal identity theft, and you should pull your credit reports to confirm.

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