Spams & Scams: A Pair of Facebook Frauds to Avoid

You cannot find out how many people view your profile
by Jessica Citizen | Last updated 12:00AM EST on January 28, 2011

Spams & Scams: A pair of Facebook frauds to avoid
It’s been designed to appeal to our most basic, narcissistic instincts — a Facebook application that lets you know how many people have looked at your profile. Another promises to remind you of what your first status update was.

The number of users posting updates from these applications is only rivaled by the number of their well-meaning friends posting alerts that the whole thing’s a scam, designed to steal your personal information.

While equally annoying, these friends are actually onto something. Technically, these apps aren’t stealing anything that you’re not already publishing, but neither application tells you exactly what it’s going to do with the information — and it’ll access just about everything you’ve ever even thought about putting in your profile.

How does it work?
Using an assortment of different names, the general approach used by these applications is the same. The developers expect people to notice posts by their friends about their first Facebook status, the number of people who’d checked out their profile, or other seemingly innocuous things.

Intrigued, the victim decides to find out what her first post was, so she clicks the link below the post. The standard warning pops up, asking her to give the application permission to access her personal details. Obviously, to find her first status, the program will have to dig down a little bit, right? So she accepts the warning and eagerly anticipates the trip down Memory Lane.

But wait — Memory Lane was never supposed to be paved with online surveys, was it? By the time the warning bells have started ringing for our victim, the app has already posted on her wall — three times — including a fake first status she never wrote and a recommendation for other people to try the app. Then the cycle starts again, as one of the victim’s friends sees the post and wonders what his first status was.

Why does it do that?
There are a few reasons these sorts of scams get created. Firstly, harvesting your personal information is a theoretical gold mine of data that can then be sold to the highest bidder to pad out spam email lists or be used in targeted advertising.

Secondly, there is a slightly more real gold mine hidden behind the surveys. The more surveys that are filled out, the more money the creator will receive.

There’s another reason too, which is more insidious but is not necessarily present in every scam of this sort. After you’ve added the app and filled out the survey, you may be asked to download a piece of software. It might be disguised as a tracking device, something that will help monitor the number of people looking at your profile page. Once downloaded and installed, this piece of software — known as malware — may make you more susceptible to future spam attacks and annoying pop-ups in your browser, or it may even lock you out of your own software. Particularly malicious variants may install further software on your computer that will steal your personal information, including passwords, credit card information, or internet banking details.

What can you do?
What if you’ve already clicked? It’s important to clean up any traces of the app on your profile. Delete the posts it made on your wall, and remove the application from your profile settings. You will not need to change your password (although you can, if it will make you feel safer).

If you’ve noticed any weird things happening on your computer after falling for this scam, it’s a good idea to run an anti-malware program. Microsoft Security Essentials is a great start — it’s free for Windows users and runs in the background of your operating system. The program will find and squish almost any nastiness lurking on your computer and help protect you in the future. Even if you don’t think you’re infected, it’s still be a good idea to install this one!

(For the record, if you’re using a Mac, you’ve got a little less to worry about. Your operating system is pretty secure, so you shouldn’t be affected by malware and other unpleasantness. However, keeping a current anti-malware program on your system is still something we recommend.)

Be alert
Don’t trust apps from unknown creators who want to connect with your profile and access your personal information, regardless of what the app might claim to do for you. There are currently no apps on Facebook that will measure profile views or keep track of who has visited your profile page — and there is no way of knowing who is accessing the personal information you have published. It might also be a good idea to think about which details you’re making public, and maybe have a quick look over this guide to getting started on Facebook — even if you’ve been there a while, there’s still some useful tips and ideas!

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