When privacy prevents scams

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Your brother’s leaving for his three-week vacation to Mexico.

He’s already set up his out-of-office email announcements for his work and personal accounts. But he’s got hundreds of friends following him on social media sites like Facebook and MySpace and via services like Twitter and Four Square.

Two days before he goes, he sends this note to his social network: “Three weeks, sunny Mexico, no phone, no email, just relaxation. If it’s urgent, contact my brother, Steve. I’m outta here. C-ya!”

You’re Steve.

Two weeks later you get a call from someone in Mexico informing you that your brother has been arrested on charges of being drunk and disorderly. He tells you your brother is sleeping off the incident in a jail cell but has asked this person to call you to pay his bail. The caller provides you with a bank account number, asking you to transfer $550.

For only $550, you’d certainly help your brother get out of jail…rewarding the scammer who monitors Twitter for the word “vacation.” (The scammer simply looked at your brother’s social media profile for the Steve with the same last name and then used a generic search engine to find your contact details.)

The mailman, the dog sitter, and your family need to know you are going on vacation, but your entire social network doesn’t. While you cannot always prevent targeted scams, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Remember, when you make public what is private – one announcement here, another piece of personal information there – it can serve as a piece in a puzzle someone else is building about you. While you may see each post as an individual item, someone else may be creating a more complete picture, making you very vulnerable to all kinds of personal fraud.

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