Social Networking Sites are Fun & Useful...but Dangerous if not Scam Savvy...

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Social Networking sites are popular online communities where people from all over the world can share their common interests. There are hundreds of sites, some more popular than others, and because of that growing popularity these sites are often targets of hackers and various scams and virus' such as one I noted recently, Koobface

These fraudsters will often pretend to be your so-called "friend". On sites such sites as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and LinkedIn they hope that by becoming "friends" they will also gain your trust. That trust is then often exploited through a number of their scams. By becoming a "friend" of yours they know that you would be more likely to let your guard down. You might actually click on a link or open an infected file -and then unwittingly download malicious software onto your computer -allowing them access to its contents -and your life!

Here's a few of the most recently reported scams;

The "viral wall post scam", plays on the potential victim's fear that their picture is published all over the web. The targeted victim will get a post on their page that reads "Hey do u realize your Facebook picture is all over" When the victim clicks on the link provided with the post, they are allowing hackers to access their personal accounts and the accounts of their friends.. 

In the "phishing friends scam", users receive a message along with a video clip that appears to come from a "friend" but when played will actually download a virus on their computer that then gives the hacker access to the victim's personal accounts and the accounts of their friends.

Another scam labeled "Friends in Distress Scam" actually happened to a friend of mine around Thanksgiving. 

In this scam, my friend received an email from a colleague who claimed he lost his passport and was stuck in a foreign country. This colleague asked my friend to send money through a wire transfer so he could return to the states. In reality, it wasn't his colleague at all -and luckily my friend didn't fall for it.

This email was a scam. It came from a hacker who had accessed his colleague's account and then began his mission to scam all of his contacts contained in the hacked address book. The scammer sent out a bulk email hoping that someone would fall for his distressed letter and wire him funds.  If my friend had fallen for this scam and sent him the requested money through a wire transfer, he would not only have lost the money he wired directly to the hacker -but he would have unwittingly passed on his bank account information too.

A few things to think about while online; 

Be skeptical of any email or messages that urge you to click on embedded links, verify personal information, phone a provided number or install unsolicited software don't do it! 

When it comes to creating passwords -use care. Do not create a password by stringing together pieces of information a thief could easily learn about you from various postings and public profiles, such as spouses names, kids names, favorite sport teams, age, etc. Thieves use these morsels of information to crack your password and then get into bank accounts or other online sites such as Amazon, iTunes or anywhere else you utilize that password! It's not a good idea to use the same password for multiple accounts. Ask yourself, if your password is cracked -what else can a trained thief find access to?

Don't publish or post anything on the web that you wouldn't want the world to see. It's important to realize the significance of the information you post in profiles and videos you or someone else publishes on the web.  Posts are never private. Most employers often Google a prospective employee's name to see what is on their personal pages or what others post about them.

You can't prevent an identity theft or fraud from occurring -but you can be prepared for it.  Realizing that your information is in the hands of every employer you've ever had, your bank, your insurance companies, your creditors, your doctor, the hospital where you had procedures done, your student loan company, your university admissions office, gas stations, department stores, convenience stores, movie rental companies and more is an important step to understanding your risk. You don't know who has access to your information nor do you know how safely it is stored. The days of having to worry about keeping our purses and wallets in our possession are long gone. Ask yourself...if you suddenly learn you've been scammed, hacked or had your identity stolen, would you know who to call, or how to minimize the damage?  Would you have the time and know-how to recover your identity, restore your infected computer, or recoup any stolen cash? If your answers are no, then take some time today to create a plan of action that can both lessen the impact of a fraud and the odds of one occurring.

The bottom line is, in these tough economic times, many people are finding social networking sites a valuable tool to enhance their business or find jobs. According to "Inside Facebook," the site has been growing at a rate of 500,000 users a day and approaching 150 million active users.

Social networking is here to stay -and so are the scammers. The key is to be aware of your surroundings on social networking sites, just as you are in real life.  Today social networking sites can not only be fun, but useful and business savvy -just remember to choose your "friends" wisely and be informed and scam savvy!

Warn your "real" friends (kids and family too) of these scams to reduce your chances of being exposed to any one of the many tricks and traps set by online predators.

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