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Where you go, we follow. That’s the motto of the scammer brigade; those invisible citizens of the web underworld. They populate our inboxes, our blog comments, our forums and not surprisingly, our social networks. What’s their loot? It’s our information.

Social sites like Facebook are built around communities. In the real world, a community is a safe haven, but it’s not so in the digital world because of its faceless nature and facebook impostors. Social hacking is a term that was born from this very phenomenon. Just to give you an example”¦

You get a link on your profile from a friend (or a username which sounds like a friend). It’s just a casual click on that link which lures you to a web page asking for some personal details. A person who is not aware of terms like phishing or malware falls prey to this cleverly disguised scam attack from Facebook impostors. Malware links can even infiltrate your accounts and leech away profile info like passwords and addresses. Or even more seriously, bank account numbers. That itself can set of a domino effect as the others in your contact book start getting attack mails from your account.

Social networking sites like Facebook have a huge user base. Facebook alone has more than 300 million users. Even if a small percentage of infiltration attempts succeed (and they do), you can do the math.

Protecting your Facebook profile from scammers and spammers requires serious ammo. The first fortifications are of course the security firewalls and countermeasures employed by Facebook itself. But just like any other war, the foot soldier is the most important piece around which the battle can turn. The foot soldier is you and what you do to protect your account. Facebook gives you some privacy controls to help you thwart spammer snoops.

Here’s the checklist on how to configure your profile to protect yourself from scammers ““

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Stop Facebook Impostors – Configure the Privacy Settings

This is the first port of call. After you log-in, on the top right corner of the blue bar you will see the Settings link. Hover over it to get the dropdown and the Privacy Settings.

facebook impostors

The Privacy page is all about allowing or disallowing others from looking at all the information on your Facebook page. Information can be broadcasted from your profile, a Facebook search result with your name, what gets written on Wall Posts, news feeds of your recent activities, and from the applications you authorize to pull information from your page.

facebook impostors

The great thing about Facebook is that it allows us to configure each small part of our profile (see screenshot above). This is what we should be aware of.

Be aware of your friends

  • Social sites make it very easy to add friends with a click. Soon enough we have an unmanageable bunch. Organizing friends into groups or Friend Lists is one way. Profile views can be set for Everyone, Only Friends, Friends of Friends or customized for specific Friend Lists. You can also exclude certain friends/Friend Lists.facebook impostors
  • On the Privacy page, click on Profile. Control who gets to see each bit of information by clicking the dropdown and selecting one. You can also click Customize to further fine tune the selections. Never set it to Everyone – that’s like opening the front door. Also, remember that your friends might have other friends who are absolute strangers to you.
  • facebook imposter scam

  • One absolute area that you should keep private is the Contact Information. You can set it to No one.
  • Save all changes.

Be invisible – remove yourself from searches

Given Facebook’s high search listing, anybody (say, scammers) searching for you or some area of related interest would find it easy. When you sign up, the default setting allows everyone to search for you. Later, one way to discourage that is by removing yourself from public search listing and also controlling your visibility from within Facebook.

  • From the Privacy page, click on Search to access the settings for search. Under the heading Public Search Listing, deselect the option to create a public search listing of your profile.facebook imposter scam
  • To cloak yourself further, you can control your search visibility from within Facebook by selecting Only Friends for Search Visibility. And then tighten up security by setting what they get to see in your public profile.facebook imposter scam

Caution with applications

Third party applications have given Facebook a good name and sometimes have left it red faced too. Third party applications with doubtful roots could be spyware by another name. Applications which you authorize need your profile info to work and sometimes that of your friends in the network (that also goes for apps installed by your friends). To cite another example, quizzes and puzzles are fun but they can influence you to reveal some personal information. So, tread on the side of caution.

  • From the Privacy page, click on Applications. The Overview describes the situations in which an application accesses your information. From the Settings page you can checkmark the types of information your friends can see about you through applications.facebook scams
  • You can also go to the Applications page (click on Applications on the foot bar) and edit the privacy settings for each individual application. A privacy setting controls the status display on your Facebook profile page.facebook scams

Screen your messages

A scam behind a Facebook impostor’s message is the oldest trick in the scammer’s book. Beware of messages which ask for personal information or cash/donations. Even if you receive a message from a pal asking for sensitive information or monetary help, verify the request with a phone call. You can also do an authenticity check by asking questions which can be back-checked.

Be wary of direct links

Don’t click on direct links that you get in messages or wall postings especially from unknown sources. They could be a ruse to malware sites or fake login sites. Look at each link carefully before being trigger happy with your mouse. A genuine link can be made out by looking up the domain name with a Google search. Though with a shortened URL, it could be a problem. Many links direct the user to a fake Facebook login page which can compromise your password. Facebook usually never asks you to log-in again to view another page.

Community rip-offs

Joining a community may get you a bunch of contacts in one go. But it can also be a scam trap if the community is a sham. Fake communities could serve as marketing gimmicks, often with the intent of building mass mailing lists. Select your community and look around the member profiles before jumping in.

These are just some of the ways we can guard against scam attacks. The best way of course, is to click logout and pick up the telephone. But that’s like picking up paranoia and ditching the fun of social networking. Simple precautions like choosing a secure password, familiarity with all the security options and safe browsing habits can keep us protected. For more Facebook security tips, check out Mahendra’s post – 10 Solid Tips to Safeguard Your Facebook Privacy 10 Solid Tips to Safeguard Your Facebook Privacy 10 Solid Tips to Safeguard Your Facebook Privacy Read More .

What other tips do you think can help to keep our guard up? And leave the scammers dry”¦

Image Credit: Jesse Gardner

  1. Tina
    October 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Awesome list! And many points are true for other sites as well.

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