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Is your friend really a friend on Facebook?

Sun., Jan. 2, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. – Facebook is the latest hot spot for swindlers in search of new victims.

And the world’s most popular social-networking website can be a gold mine for such crooks, experts say.

Scams on social-media sites are much the same as the ones you may have received as e-mail, said Kevin Johnson, a consultant for Secure Ideas, which does security research.

“The big difference in the (social-networking) scams is the level of trust that the users have,” he said. “People trust them more than they trust e-mail.”

Over time, we’ve become leery of unusual e-mails with strange links, but many people’s ingrained suspicions of e-mail scams have not carried over to Facebook. The social network tries to keep track but isn’t responsible for everything on its site.

Cybercriminals on Facebook today come cloaked as real friends sending messages asking you to wire them money in a foreign country or posting a note on your wall with a funny video that’s really a dangerous link.

The scammers are smart, sneaky and hoping you fall for their tricks. They do it for various reasons, including stealing your identity or using your personal data to sell to marketers or simply spread malicious software that can destroy your computer.

They lure victims many ways, such as offering fake gift cards or a chance to win gadgets simply by clicking on a link or that oh-so-common Facebook “Like” button. But to win, the con artists say, you have to answer some questions and provide a cell-phone or credit-card number.

Facebook admits that keeping its customers safe is difficult.

“Facebook faces a security challenge that few, if any, other companies or even governments have faced: protecting more than 500 million people on a service that is under constant attack,” company spokesman Simon Axten said. “The fact that less than 1 percent of Facebook users have ever encountered a security issue on the site is a significant achievement of which we are very proud.”

Facebook has created a system to combat identity theft, viruses and suspicious log-in attempts. Its security team looks for strange activity that may mean an account has been compromised. The company can delete fake messages and block links. And it does go after scammers in court.

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