The first step in farcing occurs when a cybercriminal friends a stranger on, for instance, Facebook. The hacker will set up a fraudulent profile with a friendly, attractive-looking picture to lure in victims. Additionally, many of these profiles will boast a hefty list of mutual friends, encouraging individuals to accept the request.
A criminal can get enough information from your Facebook page to steal your identity by finding out your birthdate, pet's name, former schools, hobbies, place of birth, family members' names and birthdates and your favorite vacation spots. All of these are answers that could potentially be used as solutions to security questions for, say, your online bank account.
If a hacker is particularly aggressive, he or she can then use the messaging function to request additional personal information from the victim. Social media provides thieves with a veritable goldmine of data.
The criminal can then send requests to your friends, listing you as a shared contact that gives them immediate credibility. This destructive growth pattern is known in the industry as "upward contagion," and means that you could unknowingly be helping thieves penetrate your friends' security networks.
"Farcing takes place on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus," Arun Vishwanath, associate professor of communication at the University of Buffalo, said in a recent study, "and has been used for online bullying, identity theft, organizational espionage, child pornography and even burglary."
Vishwanath offers the example of the recently publicized scandal that took place in a school district near Buffalo, wherein a substitute teacher created a fake profile to solicit explicit photographs of young girls. The method can just as easily be used to steal financial information.
Vishwanath recently conducted a study on 150 Facebook users from the UB student body, creating several fraudulent profiles and friending the subjects. One in five of the individuals accepted the initial friend request, and 13 percent of those people who accepted the request also provided the farcer with additional information via the messaging service.
"Farcing spreads through social contagion,” warns Vishwanath. "Think through decisions as to whom to 'friend.' Don't rely on cues like a photo or a list of contacts. Paying a lot more attention to who is making friend requests and who is messaging you for further information is likely to further protect you — and your real friends — from these online pickpockets."
Here are a few tips to help protect yourself from farcing:
- Update your privacy settings on all of your social media accounts so that only friends can view your information.
- Review your friends' list and remove any that you do not know personally. Be cautious about what friend requests you accept in the future.
- Be wary of what information you post on your social profiles. Don't, for instance, post your full birthdate, contact information such as email and mailing addresses or advertise the fact that you are going out of town.
You may also want to consider investing in an identity theft protection service, which can help protect you from identity theft alerting you to certain activity in your name that can indicate credit fraud.