In Farcing, Thieves Ask 'Would You Be My Friend?'

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By Christine DiGangi

Consider this scenario: You're on Facebook (FB), and you receive two friend requests, both from people you don't know. With one person, you have no mutual friends, and with the other, you have some. Do you accept either request? Both? Just the one who shares your friends?

Scammers are banking on the likelihood you'll accept the request if you have mutual friends -- the more, the better -- even if you have no clue who the requester is. From there, they'll have access to everything you share with friends, and they'll start friending your friends and family to see what they share. All that good stuff helps them reach their ultimate goal: identity theft.

It's called farcing, and a researcher at the University of Buffalo published a study on it in an academic journal called Information Systems Frontier, saying these scams spread quickly and widely, as the scammer gathers friends and appears more legitimate.

What Is Farcing?

Farcing happens in two stages, wrote researcher Arun Vishwanath. The first stage is friending. Stage two involves the scammer requesting information from the new friends, aka phishing, the practice of acquiring information through seemingly legitimate means.

n Vishwanath's study, people's decisions to accept the friend request (part one) relied on the number of mutual friends and the photo of the requester. People were more likely to accept requests from people with more mutual friends. "Such profiles caused an upward information cascade, where each victim attracted many more victims through a social contagion effect," Vishwanath wrote. "Individuals receiving a level 2 information request on Facebook peripherally focused on the source of the request by using the sender's picture in the message as a credibility cue."

The study used four fake Facebook profiles: one with no photo and no mutual friends, one with a photo and no friends, one with 10 connections and no photo, and one with a photo and 10 mutual friends. Each profile was male, and the photos were considered averagely attractive, Vishwanath told the University of Buffalo Reporter.

How to Avoid Farcing

Farcing has been used on a variety of social networks, and people have used it to bully others, steal identities, spy on others and acquire child pornography. Avoiding it requires exercising caution on social media.

First, you should always be careful about what you share online, but beyond that, it's unwise to connect with someone you don't know. If the friend request appears to come from someone you have met, you may want to confirm their identity before sharing anything with them, because impersonation isn't unheard of.

Everyone on social media is at risk for identity theft -- it's a reality of today's technology and ubiquitous Internet use -- so make the effort to secure your personal information. Monitor your accounts (social and financial) for unauthorized use, and check your credit regularly to make sure no fraud is occurring in your name.

Your credit score can help you spot fraud, because a sudden, significant change in score may indicate unauthorized activity. You can track changes in your credit scores by reviewing them monthly, which you can do for free on Credit.com.

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13 Comments

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hawgkawler

Its pretty sad when you think you have are a worthless human being unless a total stranger on a social network tells you differently, and you have to ASK someone you REALLY DONT KNOW to be your imaginary "Friend". Technology has led a whole new generation of fresh minds into the black hole that is cell phones and social media. Maybe its time for mankind to just give up on "REAL" life, and live virtual lives where no one makes their own decisions, and the Kardashian clan of hoe's are leaders of the free world. "Kinda scary, ain't it"?

August 11 2014 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kay

I have received several emails lately asking me to be their friend. My solution is that if I don't recognize the emailer I don't open the email. Often they will go directly to my Spam Folder. The other thing that I have been getting lately on my home phone, and so have many friends, is a phone call on our "caller I D" from ourselves! Needless to say that when I get one of those I let the darn phone ring. My friend got one yesterday and actually answered the phone before she looked at the Caller I D and when she said hello, no one was there and then a hang up. I have told her over and over do NOT answer the phone if you do not know who it is, but it just does not seem to sink in. Now we need the phone companies to come up with some way to block idiots from fooling the Caller I D so they can use any number to call us. Getting ridiculous with all the dumb calls we get even while on the "Do Not Call List!"

August 10 2014 at 10:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ectullis

Arun Vishwanath?

August 10 2014 at 9:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

Many of the people I know are relatives or friends. I just don't get into all the worthless candy games or shiester ads on f-book.

August 09 2014 at 12:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pfjw

Anyone involve with social media at any level deserves exactly what they get. With extraordinary care and attention, perhaps it is safe. But the operative word is "perhaps".

Given that the sole-and-only reason for facebook to exist is to make money for its stockholders - one gets what one pays for.

August 08 2014 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to pfjw's comment
Kay

I am not even on social media and I still get friend requests.

August 10 2014 at 10:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LAINEE

Totally agree with you. We are not on facebook, twitter or any other social media. All that stuff is very dangerous and you are simply asking for trouble!

If we do not know who the Emailer is, it immediately gets deleted! Our sons say we are paranoid---I guess we are, but I would rather be paranoid and safe than sorry.

August 11 2014 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmsexton

lol i have zero information on facebook. some dumbazz can try and get all the info they want... there is nothing there. i will also not load the messenger for chat app now either. if you read the terms of service it's truly scary what you are giving them permission to do... up to and including taking over your phone and allowing it to place calls... read it if you don't believe me.

August 08 2014 at 11:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jdykbpl45

Yet another reason to stay off social media.

August 08 2014 at 9:03 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Kay

I have gotten many friend requests from people that I do not know. I don't answer them, even if it says that they ARE friends with people that I know. I don't trust anyone anymore, you can never be too safe!

August 08 2014 at 8:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Allen

The biggest problem is the attitude toward " white collar crime " , look at Madoff . He ruined many lives and yet he still lives . They should be made to pay heavily for any crimes committed , and if enough damage has been done , they should be put to death . As long as it's a slap on the wrist , IT WILL CONTINUE pretty much un-abated .

August 07 2014 at 8:21 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
razov

Alot of this criminal activity would disappear if the penalties for identity theft were steeper and courts allowed victims to recover triple damages.
Also, credit card companies must replace the cheap magnetic strip with biometric information that can't be duplicated.
Write your Congressman and demand it!
RZ in CT

August 07 2014 at 2:57 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to razov's comment
merstockgto

Many of these people are from other countries and very difficult to identify.

August 07 2014 at 3:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply