Why you can't trust 'friends' on Facebook

Facebook is popular and growing -- especially with criminals. Here's why they love it.

While pretty women can be dangled in front of thirtysomething and fortysomething men in order to separate them from their money, Dateline NBC 's Chris Hansen can tell you that men target girls for crimes far worse. A growing number of police investigations are targeting men with fake Facebook profiles and fake photos, which always show the perp to be closer to the age of the victim. They strike up "friendships" with underage girls. One 32-year-old Canadian man is currently being investigated for targeting 146 girls (most between the ages of 11 and 15), and trying to get them to agree to an in-person meeting.

Similar to this is stalkers of all stripes who use fake profiles to keep tabs on their victims. There's even a tongue-in-cheek "Stalkers" application on Facebook.

How to wreck Facebook

One reason people enjoy Facebook is that e-mail has become polluted with spam, and it's more pleasant to converse without unsolicited garbage. That's why purveyors of unsolicited garbage find Facebook so appealing as well.

This week, Facebook won a $1.3 billion judgment (filed under the CAN-SPAM Act) against a spammer. Hooray for Facebook! But this high-profile legal victory points to the sudden attention being paid to Facebook by spammers large and small. For every big fish caught, a thousand little fish get away. Of course, the spam on Facebook comes in the form of "groups" and "gifts" and "applications," as well as wall posts and other such communication.

Facebook is also becoming a focus point for hate speech. After a South Park episode where a character claims all redheads are evil, some Canadian teenager created a group on Facebook called "National Kick a Ginger Day." Which led, of course, to actual kids getting kicked at school. This passes for a hate crime in Canada.

In Italy, someone or some group posted a series of "neo-Nazi" Facebook pages that reportedly called for violence against gypsies.

All of these malicious activities, from fake friends to spam to hate speech, are aggressively dealt with by Facebook once people complain. But the Internet is always Darwinian. As Facebook's defenses evolve, the spammers will find a way to deceive. And deception is oh so easy on Facebook.

Eventually, I predict that fraud will become so widespread that signing up for Facebook will require a verified cell phone number. But in the meantime, difficult-to-detect fraud is exploding on Facebook, and you would be well-advised to verify every friend.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

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