Facebook and Identity Theft

by Andy Polaine on July 24, 2007

There has been quite a lot in the news about privacy concerns with Facebook as well as it being used for investigations. Living in a country that was home to the Nazis and the Stasi got me thinking…

I’m on Facebook as you might imagine and, if you are reading this, probably already know. I joined a group called “Wisdom of the Crowdys” today that Mike Coulter set up. It has turned out to be the only interesting Facebook group I’m a member of and the conversation turned to privacy issues and identity theft. But I think the news stories about it being used for investigations are the opposite to the issues of identity theft and they often get lumped together.

Investigations using all your online information might be successful because of the trail you leave, a trail that can only become larger thanks to Facebook. That’s potentially a massive privacy issue in terms of civil liberties, especially if you believe some of the background to Facebook. I’m hoping the Stasi-effect comes into play and there is simply too much information out there to manage – it became their undoing in the end. (For a good read on this, check out Stasiland by Anna Funder).

Identity theft, as I understand it happening, involves two parts to be really successful – one is obviously gaining access to someone else’s accounts and life essentials. The other is the target person either not finding out or finding it hard to prove they are the real person.

I think the main danger is your date of birth and address being left out there in the open all in one place. Those two give access to a surprisingly large number of things from which identity theft could happen, but that stuff is pretty easy to find anyway. Let’s say, also, that your mum was added to your friends and your parents were divorced and she reverted to her maiden name – that’s another common security question. With those and a few account numbers (from, say, stealing someone’s e-mail or snail mail) you’ve got what you need to at least take over a few utility and telco bills. That’s the first step to then proving to a bank that they are, well, you.

But the flipside is this: If you have a fairly prevalent online presence – across many sources and blogs, etc. leaving more of a trace helps you prove you are who you say you are. A combination of Google’s image cache, Archive.org plus all those other Web 2.0 accounts you have mean there is a lot more identity to have to steal for it to be complete. It makes a piece of paper or plastic with a photo or address on it look pretty quaint.

It might not stop you getting cleaned out, but it might help you prove it to the bank afterwards.

What do you think?

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