People open wallets to fraudsters through Facebook and MySpace.

    An increasing number of Canadians are voluntarily posting their comings
    and goings and their personal data on Facebook and MySpace - even as
    alarms are sounding about the dangers of having personal data stolen and
    used for identity theft.

    TORONTO, Oct. 1 /CNW/ - People don't put a sign on their front yard or
apartment door listing the dates they'll be away on vacation and all of their
personal data. But, "people are doing just that through the growing phenomenon
of social networking Internet sites, where members post pictures and current
information about themselves as a way of keeping in touch and sharing
information with "real world" friends, business associates, family and
classmates," states Grant Thornton senior forensic manager David Malamed.
    Grant Thornton forensic partner Jennifer Fiddian-Green warns that
identity theft, a growing threat whereby criminals use personal information to
obtain credit and loans in a person's name without their knowledge, is being
facilitated by information posted on these social networking sites: "The more
personal information the fraudster has, the easier it is to impersonate
victims and wreak havoc on their finances and credit record. Some users of
Facebook and MySpace routinely place information such as their date of birth,
relationship status, locale, workplace and work history or even their address,
email and phone number, right in their profile without any restrictions about
who sees it."
    Passwords for credit and debit cards or on-line financial services are
often based on family names: child's, pet's or mother's maiden. These family
details are now easily gleaned from many Facebook profiles - either from
information actually posted, or from offhand comments or photo captions on the
site. Listing extended family members on on-line friends lists, makes it a lot
easier for criminals to figure this information out.
    Jennifer Fiddian-Green states, "One of the recurring themes in our work
as forensic accountants is the need to persuade both companies and individuals
that their personal data - SINS, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, credit
card bills, etc. - should be treated as a valuable commodity. Identity thieves
certainly treat it that way, which is why they steal it."
    There are options to limit the amount of information that can be seen in
a profile by random browsers versus people accepted as friends. However,
David Malamed, advises "There are two things to bear in mind before becoming
too confident about the security features: first, the most important
distinction about on-line friends is that they may not actually know each
other in the real world; and second, large databases full of personal
information are very attractive to hackers, since ID thieves will pay for that
data. If the world's largest financial institutions and retailers with
sophisticated computer encryption can lose data this way, why should on-line
social networking sites be immune to data security breaches or hacking?"
    On its Web site, Sophos describes research conducted with 200 random
Facebook members to see how many would accept a "friend" solicitation from a
complete stranger, and how readily they would disclose personal information to
that person (in this case, a cartoon frog named "Freddi Staur," an anagram for
"ID Fraudster"). Just under half responded, 87% gave details on their
education or employment, 84% provided their date of birth, 78% provided their
address or locale, 72% gave a personal email address, 26% divulged their
instant-message screen name, and 23% actually gave their current phone number.
    This doesn't mean people need to avoid being part of the social
networking phenomenon - they just need to be careful about what they reveal
and with whom they choose to engage on-line. Facebook and MySpace are designed
to be communities of shared interests, but like all communities there are good
and bad citizens. "We need to stop making the scammer's job so easy," advises
David Malamed.

    Grant Thornton LLP is a leading Canadian accounting and business advisory
firm focused on serving private and public mid-sized organizations. Together
with Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, Grant Thornton in Canada has more than
3,100 people in offices across the country and annual revenues of more than
$385 million. Financial Post 500 recently rated them together as among
Canada's top five largest accounting firms. Grant Thornton LLP is a Canadian
member of Grant Thornton International, which has over 585 offices worldwide
and is represented in over 100 countries.

For further information:

For further information: or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Bonny Shears, National Manager, Business Development, Grant Thornton LLP, T
(416) 360-5012, F (416) 360-4944, E

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