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Sophos: Nigerian 419 scammers use Facebook friends to steal money

November 2008 by Sophos

Sophos is warning Facebook users to be wary of messages sent by friends requesting personal information or money. The warning follows the discovery that cybercriminals are masquerading as Facebook friends in order to trick unwary users into parting with valuable sensitive and financial information.

According to reports, Google Australia employee, Karina Wells, received a Facebook message from a cyber crook pretending to be her friend Adrian saying he was stranded in Lagos, Nigeria and in need of USD 500 for a ticket home. Wells was not immediately suspicious and only became so when her ’friend’ started to use American phrases like ’cell phone’ instead of ’mobile phone’. At this point, she contacted the authorities to make them aware of the attempted fraud.

Sophos notes that given the Facebook trend for amassing as many friends as possible, these sorts of scams may not be instantly recognisable as fraud as with dozens, or even hundreds of friends, it’s impossible for members to keep track of where they all are.

"Many Facebook users don’t even know how many friends they have on the site, let alone what they are all doing and where they are, and this is providing the scammers with a new vector of attack" said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Unfortunately this is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle taking place between Facebook users and cybercriminals intent on exploiting the site and its members for their own financial gain. To guard against all these threats, it’s essential to be cautious in your online activities. Don’t reveal all your personal details online and be wary of messages with unusual demands - just because they come from a ’friend’ doesn’t make them legitimate."

Sophos experts note that emails from social networking sites are much more likely to get into computer users’ inboxes in the first place as they don’t have the obvious signs that botnet spam does (such as known-bad sender IP address, known-bad headers, or known-bad email construction). This means many spam filters will fail to stop these messages from reaching their intended victims’ mailboxes.

"Unless people take more care when securing their computers and personal data, there’s no doubt that we’ll see more electronic conmen using stolen Facebook identities to steal money from the innocent by posing as their online buddies," continued Cluley.




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