July 16, 2008 -- When you update your profile on social networking sites such as Facebook, are you helping thieves to empty your bank account? Or ruin your credit? A Baltimore teen learned the hard way about some of the new ways private information can be used against you online.
Lisa Lockwood knew about her 17-year old son's Facebook page, but what she didn't know about were the games attached to the site he was downloading and playing -- until she got a phone call.
"I received a phone call from a Heritage Subaru Volkswagen about my son's credit card application for a vehicle. I spoke to the gentleman, and I said, 'My son hasn't filled out any credit applications. I don't know what you are talking about. He is underage,'" Lockwood said.
Lockwood found out what others have found out, that not everyone on Facebook is a friend, and some of the games that are offered come with liabilities.
One of the games Lockwood's son was playing on his Facebook page offered extra points in exchange for filling out an application that asked for a Social Security number. He provided the information, filling out a total of seven loan applications, a decision he now finds embarrassing.
"My son has been kind of upset about it," Lockwood said. "He was invited to play this game from some of his school friends. I assume they have all done the same thing as well, and I think he is a bit embarassed about it, that I caught him doing this."
Facebook says while they do allow games to be downloaded from its site, the games must be approved and meet its guidelines.
A Facebook representative told "Good Morning America" in a statement that "the collection of personally-identifiable information from Facebook users is strictly controlled and limited by our developer terms of service. ... We are currently investigating particular reports of the incentivization of minor users to provide information in a context that may violate these policies."
But Lockwood said the games don't belong on Facebook in the first place, and hopes her son's experience will serve as a cautionary tale to all parents.
"Parents need to talk to their kids and tell them not to give out personal information on the Internet," she said.
Crooks Can Create a Detailed Dossier
Internet privacy and security lawyer Parry Aftab said that although you may only share a little bit of personal information on each site, these sites combine to create a detailed picture. Crooks can compile dossiers on you from the various Web sites you use. The more information they get, the more ways they can harm you.
For instance, you might receive a pop-up window that tells you that you may win a free iPod if you just fill out a form, or if you apply for what looks like a legitimate mortgage online. Legitimate people are using this information to process credit. But more criminal minds might be using it to take out credit cards, mortgages and all types of credit in your name. They can use a Social Security number to hack into your account, change the password, then empty your money out.
There's also a trend called "spearphishing" in which you receive a legitimate-looking e-mail from a bank claiming there's been a security issue and could you please type in your login and password. The criminals who run this scheme can then log into and empty out your back account.
Social Security is key to driver's license, school records, banking and passports. And these are things that help people to pose as you, or to sell your information to someone who will.
And something as simple as your birth date, when used in conjunction with your Social Security number, can unlock the door for identity theft.
Information You Should Take Care in Posting
1. Your Profile Picture
Your picture shouldn't have any clues about where you live or work. If you're standing on your street and you can see the house numbers, that gives a clue about your address. If you're posing wearing a job uniform and it says the name of the restaurant where you work, that gives them more information.
Internet quizzes are becoming more popular. There are intelligence and personality tests that look like fun and might ask you personal questions such as "how much did you drink last weekend?" That information is public, out there and could be sold to marketers.
3. Friend Requests
Facebook suggests that you don't accept friend requests from people you don't know. And don't feel bad if you choose to ignore them. Also, you can enable privacy settings that allow you to customize what information you share and with whom. By customizing the settings on the privacy page, you can control who views your information, dictate who can find you in searches, as well as see your profile and photos, among other things.
4. Phone Number
Don't post your telephone number. If it's a listed number, someone could easily do a reverse lookup to get your address.
5. Status Update
Don't list if you are going out of town. If someone has your address (see No. 4 above) and knows you're out of town, you could come home to find yourself robbed.
And on a less serious note, remember that anyone can go on Facebook, including the police, your professors and your boss. So if you call in sick and then post pictures of yourself out partying later that night, well, you have no one to blame but yourself.