Facebook: identity thefts a major problem

Identity thefts and frauds are not a new phenomenon for social networking sites but the recent identity fraud of Ronald K. Noble, secretary general of law enforcement agency Interpol, is showing signs that such frauds are now assuming malicious proportions.

Ronald K. Noble is one of the most powerful and influential people in policing world over but even he could not escape being a target to an online fraud. At last week’s inaugural Interpol Information Security Conference in Hong Kong, secretary General Noble revealed that criminals had set up two accounts impersonating him on the networking site during this summer’s high-profile global dragnet, ‘Operation Infra-Red’. The fraud was discovered only recently by Interpol’s Security Incident Response Team.

Ronald K. Noble said, “Interpol’s information security incident response team discovered two Facebook profiles attempting to assume my identity as Interpol’s secretary general. One of the impersonators was using this profile to obtain information on fugitives targeted during our recent Operation Infra Red.”

Last year, a similar high profile figure was at the heart of an impersonation fraud. Apparently, someone was managing a false account on Facebook impersonating as Amartya Sen- the Indian Nobel Laureate. He was dishing out advices and participating in discussions. Even after repeated objections by Amartya Sen himself, Facebook refused to remove the page.

As most social networking sites continued with their obsession of adding numbers and visitors to their site, security issues were compromised at large.

But given the implications of such frauds, Head of Facebook European public policy, Lord Allan admitted that hacking of accounts to defraud people is a “Major issue”.


The bedrock on which the success stories of social networking sites are built is that of “trust”. Fraud instances like these have a very negative impact on the trust component prevalent in the social networking mediums. As long as people have the faith that the people whom they are interacting with are:

a) Real people (not bots) and;

b) The same person they pose to be (no impersonation)

social networking sites would continue to prosper as a virtual place to meet and interact. Once this trust is broken, the real strength of these sites- the people would turn away.

From a marketer’s point of view, this breaking of “trust” can spell doom to the social media marketing strategies which revolve around people talking about their products, recommending them etc. Once the trust factor breaks this advertising would be no good than painted boards of T.V commercials. The human element and the power of ‘word of mouth’ advertising would be lost.

Steps towards better security

To respond to such instances, Facebook is continuously upgrading its security platform. It recently put into place “Log in notification”, and measures to block suspicious logins. Now, whenever an account is being accessed by a new device, a SMS notification can be sent to the owner of that account. This would allow the owner of the account to reset the password if the account is being compromised.

Similarly, if the account is being accessed from an unknown location, there is a series of security checks that are needed to be completed. In the initial stage, a security question is asked. Then the person logging in is asked to identify faces from his friends list. While this is easy for the genuine account holder, it becomes virtually impossible for an impersonator.

As more and more high profile persons and VIPs are opening up to social networking, perhaps Facebook can take a leaf out of Twitter’s book when it comes to profile impersonations. Twitter makes it a point to verify profiles of VIP’s and states it explicitly in the profile page. Sample this, Shahrukh Khan’s twitter page explicitly mentions “verified account” on the top right hand corner.

Social networking sites need to continue to find innovative way to safeguard security and privacy of their consumers. They need to think one step ahead of the hackers.

Note: This post is part of our Student Series that will feature perspectives from students across management institutes on Social Media

Views of authors are personal, and do not represent views of IndiaSocial or its partners.