Criminals have been mining data from Facebook and other social media sites for some time. We have records of scammers using Facebook to lure unsuspecting users to outside websites, where they are prompted to log in, compromising their valuable account data and password information for criminals to use elsewhere.
Other times, careless users have left too much personal information on line, including birthdays, addresses, and other information that can be leveraged into identity theft.
More recently, though, another variation on the scam has come to light: Criminals have been trolling Facebook accounts, looking for members who post a lot of details about their own families. They will then locate and contact a vulnerable family member – often a grandmother – and pretend to be a grandchild travelling abroad.
The scammers pretend to be the grandchild, and breathlessly explain to the unsuspecting senior that they’re in jail in Spain, for example, after hitting a telephone pole – and they need her to wire them money to get let out of jail.
In some cases, the criminals don’t just stop with the first couple of thousand dollars. They will contact grandma again, telling her the judge is making her grandson pay for damages to a light pole he hit. Then a deductible to an insurance company. They will call grandma again, saying the police won’t let him leave the country until he clears accounts and hit grandma for a couple more grand.
They keep it up until grandma catches on to the scam or runs out of money – and meanwhile, her grandson is safe at home, unaware that his Facebook information is being used by criminals to victimize his family.
How they do it
To pull off this scam, criminals don’t need to steal birthdays or password information directly. Instead, they’ll go through Facebook accounts, mapping a picture of the victim’s family. They’ll gather so much information about family details and contacts that they can quickly overcome any skepticism about the scammer’s identity.
Criminals will also scan Facebook for information to use against members more directly: They will look for families announcing vacation plans on Facebook, for example, and then break into the house when you’re away. Police have broken up multiple burglary rings in several states, in which thieves used information gleaned via Facebook to target homes where they knew the occupants would be away.
Awareness Is Still A Factor
According to a recent survey from the Javelin Group, a large number of social media users posted information on line on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs, and other social media sites that criminals could possibly leverage against them:
- 68 percent of social media users publicly shared their birthday.
- 63 percent shared the name of their high school.
- 18 percent shared their phone number.
- 12 percent shared their pet’s name.
All this is information that criminals could use to bluff their way to access to a bank account – or even to a home, especially where family members are very young, elderly, naïve or easily confused.