Facebook users risk identity theft, says famous ex-conman
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 March 2013
Frank Abagnale, the man dubbed the world’s greatest conman, has issued a stark warning about the dangers of identity theft and children using Facebook.
Abagnale, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Steven Spielberg’s film Catch Me If You Can, said that children in particular need to be made aware of the serious risks of unwittingly revealing information on social networking sites.
He has nearly 40 years experience as a security expert for US law enforcement agencies, having switched sides when he was eventually caught by the FBI after spending half his teenage years on the run as a confidence trickster, imposter, cheque forger and escape artist in the 1960s.
“I’m not on it [Facebook, but] I have no problem with it,” he said, addressing the Advertising Week Europe conference in London on Wednesday. “I have three sons on it. I totally understand why people like it. But like every technology you have to teach children, it is an obligation of society to teach them how to use it carefully.”
He said having accrued 37 years’ work with the FBI he has also become aware of many widely available techniques to gather dangerous amounts of personal data from Facebook.
He gave the example of a creeper virus that allows the tracking of a Facebook user even if their phone is not transmitting.
Another readily available programme, which Abagnale said is owned by Google, uses facial recognition that can match an individual with their personal information on the social networking website “in just seven seconds”.
“If you tell me your date of birth and where you’re born [on Facebook] I’m 98% [of the way] to stealing your identity,” he said. “Never state your date of birth and where you were born [on personal profiles], otherwise you are saying ‘come and steal my identity’.”
He also advised Facebook users to never choose a passport-style photograph as a profile picture, and instead use group photographs.
Abagnale, who uses a document shredder so he knows that even the FBI cannot reassemble the paper, also warned about the dangers of the seemingly innocuous details given away by users who “like” Facebook postings.
“What [people] say on a Facebook page stays with them,” he said. “Every time you say you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ you are telling someone [things like] your sexual orientation, ethnic background, voting record.”
He said he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for the UK’s privacy laws, which are “way ahead” of the US.
Abagnale said that while it was common to see companies such as Facebook being criticised for privacy issues in the media, it is up to people to take action to keep their data private.
“Your privacy is the only thing you have left,” he said. “Don’t blame all the other companies – Google, Facebook – you control it. You have to keep control of your own information.”