I love the internet. And I love geeks. Something about watching their faces light up when they talk code just totally does it for me. It’s like watching a kid with a brand new toy.
I am also a technoblonde … and a wannabe geekchick. I have these grand dreams and schemes of one day deciphering geekspeak. Then when I hear my pretty ones babbling about buffering and networks and whatnot, I’ll be able to join their fluent geekinese.
That said, when I think about identity theft, I think about people hacking into paypal accounts and accessing my bank account or stealing my pin numbers. I imagine them buying things in my name, or draining my life savings. Pretty scary stuff, but not something I think about often, since I don’t do much cashing online.
So today as I was trawling blogville, I got a rather rude shock. Identity theft is actually much simpler and wider than I realised. And all it takes is a ‘friend’.
With social networks like facebook and twitter, I often accept ‘friends’ indiscriminately. On facebook somebody adds you as a friend, you accept and forget about it. Sometimes, facebook even accepts friendships on your behalf. They will deny this, but lots of times I have seen new friends on my list that I neither asked for nor accepted, but since they are people I know, I just let it go.
On twitter it’s much worse, because almost everybody uses a nickname, so you have no idea who you’re really talking to. Plus, there’s nothing to stop me from tweeting using, say, my brother’s name. That’s why you see a tweep called Shaq and another called The Real Shaq and yet another called The Bonafide Shaq.
The trouble with things like twitter is that you get comfortable. You say banal things, like how you’re upset that your dog just died, or how you are excited about your birthday party, or how the stripper at this club you’re at is really something. You feel safe, you are anonymous, and you are among friends. And after all, who cares about your dead dog? It’s hardly a state secret.
But consider this. You are at said club describing said stripper, and some person in your twitter group is at the same club. They simply look up, scan the crowds for the person playing with their phone, and suddenly you’re not anonymous anymore. If the person is harmless, they may come up, introduce themselves and even get to know you. Suddenly, you have a real life friend.
A more malevolent person may chat you up without telling you who they are, and cause havoc between you’re virtual and real social life. They could either chuckle at your ignorance while they play their sleuthing game, or totally ruin your life, work, or relationship.
Take another instance of a person who specifically sets out to get you. They will friend you on twitter, then deliberately collect random information about you. Your favourite team or club, the car you drive, the route you use to work, the girl you’re eye-ing … all it takes is a random tweet like ‘On my way to work, this Mombasa Road jam is the pits!’ or ‘Having dinner at Tacos with my girl’ or even ‘stomach cramps, need to see a doctor’ to help someone build a rather intimate composite of you.
How is this bad? Well, for one thing, you can get totally creeped out when a stranger walks up to you and says, ‘your favourite food is X, you’re currently trying to get a job, last week you had an attack of chicken pox’ etc. Separately, these are harmless tweets, but in combination, you will feel thoroughly stalked.
Still, this is all harmless information. Throw in an evil mind and you are in dogs. Scenario A: The person has all your twitter info, and then, by way of strip club, finds out your identity. They then go on facebook and see ‘So and so is engaged to so-an-so’. Think of what they could do with that info. They could email your fiancee with dirt on you. Or worse, they could chat up your fiancee, sister, mother or even your boss pretending to be you.
Sounds impossible? Not really. I mean if they know both your names, how hard is it to set up an email address using them? If your sister got an email from Anthony.Kuku@gmail.com, she’s unlikely to think it’s someone pretending to be you. She’ll just assume you got a new email.
Then, if in the course of chatting with ‘her brother’ you talk about how she was shopping this morning and ask what she bought, how she liked the red shoes, how sad you are about the dead dog, she’ll definitely think she’s talking to you.
Now think for a second, the kind of information this person could get from your sister or fiancee, or worse, the kind of information, false or otherwise, that this person could give them. If they wanted to. Creepy, isn’t it?
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Crystal Ading' is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through threeceebee.com.