Keep Your Friends Close and Your Facebook Friends Closer

During this holiday season when (hopefully) we are in the company of our friends and family, it might be a good time to double-check that your friends on your social networking sites really are the friends you think they are.

ComputerWorld columnist Mike Elgan has an eye-opening piece on how the people who claim to be your friend could very easily just be pretending to be someone that you know.

In principle, it is a very simple scam, for those people who are on multiple social networking sites. Basically, a person puts out some arbitrary friend requests just to start gaining access to information. This is actually the weakest part of this chain of lies. If you never accept requests from people you don’t know, and encourage your friends to do likewise, a lot less of this data will get out. However, there are people who will be friends with anyone who asks them, so you have to assume that some of your friends could have shady friends.

Next, the scammer will grab data from one site and create an identical profile on the other using the information they have already gathered. Since there is no way to differentiate between your real friend on Myspace and the scammer on Facebook who has all the Myspace data, you accept them as a friend.

This is where the real danger comes in, because the scammer now has access to you. You think they are your friend, but really they are waiting in Nigeria for you to send them some money to “bail them out of prison” or any number of very scary scenarios.

The real defense for these types of scams are the most fundamental things to keep in mind wherever you go on the internet.

1. Be very careful about what data you are putting out for other people to get.

2. Verify everything before you send money to anybody, anywhere, especially Nigeria. 🙂

3. It might be a good idea to call your friend up before meeting them alone at a bar somewhere.

As always, be safe and be smart online.

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