Beware of Facebook ‘invitation’ scams

12 April 2011

Beware of Facebook ‘invitation’ scams

By Anna Valmero,

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA— Users of popular social networking website Facebook should be wary of bogus event “invitations”, according to security firm Sophos.

If you clicked “Yes” to attend a recent Facebook event called "Who blocked you from his friend list?", chances are you have been a victim of spammers who sold your online information.

Over 165,000 people have been tricked into attending the said event with some 10.3 million users still debating whether to respond or not, and the event is only one in a million of fake events organized to mine data from online profiles, according to Sophos.

"These spammed-out event invitations and links to survey scams are one of the biggest nuisances on Facebook right now, impacting millions of users daily," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Simply put, social networking sites are actually tools for data mining for companies.

After viewing the invite page, unwary users are lured to click the "More Info" section of the events summary. Unknown to users, scammers embed instructions into this section, leading unsuspecting users into visiting web pages for online surveys or competitions, said Sophos.

Through the surveys, scammers can earn commission when a user gives out personal information. Sometimes, users are asked for their cellphone number, which is then signed up to an expensive service.

The reminder against bogus online events comes timely after the "public event" was shared online by thousands of Facebook users, including those in the Philippines.

According to Facebook user tracker, the Philippines is the fifth country with the most number of Facebook users at 22.65 million as of April 2011, up two places from seventh place in August 2010.

That means the number of Filipino users is equivalent to 3.6 percent of total 629 million accounts in Facebook, according to the site tracker.

"It would be great if Facebook was being more proactive in shutting down these obviously bogus events, as currently it's far too easy for the scammers to fill their pockets through schemes like this," said Cluley.

For now, he said online users have to be proactive and should never accept unsolicited invitations from suspicious events and always think twice before clicking on links received via Facebook.

Aside from bogus events, recent Facebook scams include solicitations from grandparents who received a call from someone claiming to be a long-lost grandchild, according to online magazine Security News Daily.

Personal information including a person's full name, address, complete date of birth and contact details including email ad mobile number makes a person vulnerable to attacks "so there should be online vigilance," said Sonnie Santos, blogger of Web Safety Philippines that was named best advocacy blog in 2010

On a blog post, Santos wrote that 90 percent of the 30 million Filipino online users use social networking sites like Facebook. Some 19 percent of users are under 13-years-old, which makes it easier for scammers to get personal data.

"In the end, there is no privacy on the Internet but we believed that by educating Filipinos, we will prevent cyber harassment and cyber crimes... Incidents of stealing identity, cyber bullying, cyber boso, cyber stalking and other cyber crimes will be minimized," said Santos.

Santos gave these simple tips to avoid bogus event invites:

1. Accept friend requests and event invites only from people whom you know personally.

2. Avoid clicking buttons or filling up surveys with personal information about an event.

3. Do not post your email or mobile number on your public Facebook profile. This goes for personal information such as full birth date or family relations. Or make this profile information only available only to friends or a limited number of people.

4. Do not click “Yes” or “Cancel” on pop-ups, instead click the close button.

5. Facebook tracks your online web searches so clear your cache or log off at Facebook to prevent data mining.

Be cautious of what you put online such as places of vacation.

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