Scheme #5: The Contrived Community
Community enthusiasts, be cautioned: Facebook user groups can sometimes be cleverly disguised vehicles for marketing. And--whether you realize it or not--when you click the join link, you're effectively opting in.
While the consequences of doing so aren't as important as getting malware on your PC or losing money, it still could be troublesome.
Brad J. Ward was one of the first users to find such a scheme in action. Ward, then a member of Butler University's admissions department, discovered a Facebook group called "Butler Class of 2013."
The only problem: The people behind it had nothing to do with Butler. After posting about the issue on his blog SquaredPeg.com, Ward soon learned that the names of nearly 400 other schools appeared in similarly suspicious groups, all created by the same small set of people.
"My initial reaction was that some company or person was essentially setting themselves up to be the administrator for hundreds of groups, which provides the opportunity to send out mass messages or to collect data," Ward says.
His instinct was right: The publisher of a college guidebook had set up the groups, seemingly with the goal of building a mass mailing list for marketing its products, Ward discovered.
Ward blogged that, in his opinion, the action was unethical and could be misconstrued as an official university presence.
Luke Skurman, CEO of the publishing company College Prowler, commented on Ward's blog that--without his knowledge--College Prowler had been working with another company "that may have been using fake aliases to create these groups."
Skurman said in his comments that his company's administrator provileges for the groups would be removed immediately.
So this story got a good outcome. But you can't always have a Brant J. Ward looking out for you.
The Protection: Be very selective in deciding what groups you join. If you aren't sure who runs a given Facebook community, or whether it's officially linked to the organization that it claims to be, don't accept the request. Your privacy is worth more than any membership.
The Web of Trust
In the end, staying safe comes down to maintaining control of your information and carefully selecting with whom you share it--because you never truly know who's on the other end of electronic communication. This past month, for example, a high school student was charged with 12 felonies after investigators say he posed as a girl on Facebook and tricked male classmates into sending him nude photos.
"An online version of the 'web of trust' is formed among users," notes Trend Micro's Jamz Yaneza. "Although this does work in the noncyberspace environment, the platform ... is really different when someone else is in charge of your medium."
It's easy to feel invulnerable while reading about such schemes. The second you let your guard down, though, it's even easier to become the next victim. Just ask people who know Beny Rubinstein, the IT pro who lost more than a grand to a Facebook scammer.
"Worse than losing the money, he realized how exposed you are in a social network," says Vicente Silveira, Rubinstein's friend. "We're exposing things now that are in many ways a lot more valuable than money."