The Miami Herald last Friday reported on a Facebook Internet Cancer Scam. A copy of the article can be found here. The article discusses Cindy Choi's long-running cancer deception/scam using Facebook and underscores the dangers of predators on the ubiquitous Facebook social networking site.
Although Choi broke hearts and sometimes apparently stalked some girls, she (acting as a he) never introduced herself physically. And no underage girls admitted to sexual activity over the phone or online.
Ultimately, prosecutors could not bring a case against Choi, who deleted her accounts and a blog before investigators could preserve them. If a user deletes a page, Facebook claims, the records are gone for good, although the company admits “some information may remain in backup copies or logs for up to 90 days.”
No U.S. law exists that requires Internet providers to retain records for a certain time period. Across the nation, authorities have made many arrests of Facebook users who prey on young people or defraud the sympathetic.
Occasionally, the site provides police tips. In March, the site tipped off Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents that a 32-year-old Orlando man was seeking sex from a 13-year-old girl through the site. He was arrested.
In many more cases, perpetrators are caught after the fact.
In January 2010, a Key West man was arrested after authorities said he posed as a sorority sister on Facebook, blackmailing young women at Louisiana State University into posing nude.
Oscar Garcia, 30, was arrested in February after Miami police say he created a fake Facebook page to look at the page of a 11-year-old girl. He found a cell number on the girl's page, offering to send her photos of his penis, police said.
In one extreme case, a British registered sex offender, posing as a teen in 2009, murdered a 17-year-old girl he met on Facebook.
As for cancer fakes, a New Jersey woman was arrested last month after investigators say she posed as a cancer patient, duping supporters into giving her more than $15,000. In September, an Arizona woman was jailed for one year after she falsely claimed to have breast cancer — using donations instead to pay for breast implants.
One recent Facebook scam, for instance, involved a fake page offering free gift cards. Together with a similar trick pulled just a few weeks earlier, more than 100,000 people fell for it.
Victims had to sign up for the supposed deal, giving their names, addresses, and other details, but the gift cards never arrived.
In another Facebook scam incident, victims were invited to complete a credit registration form, but downloading it installed malware that crashed their PCs — but only after capturing all their confidential information.
A particularly sneaky recent Facebook scam masquerades as an antivirus service. Victims are invited to download a product called Facebook Antivirus, which then hijacks their list of “friends” and asks them to download the product too, then posts pictures on their pages.
Also, Facebook was targeted by a phishing agent inside an unsolicited email that tricked users into thinking they were resetting their usernames and passwords. They were taken to a bogus page where they had to key in their real username and passwords, information that was then used to hijack their accounts.
You'll find similar types of scams on other social networking sites.
Tips for Avoiding Facebook and Other Social Media Scams
1. Install Internet security software from one of the big-name providers and keep it up to date. Never download or install supposed security programs that purport to be linked to a specific site you use, like Facebook. Use a security program or a browser that includes an anti-phishing website checker.
2. If you follow a link that's supposed to take you to another page on the same site, check the address bar of your browser to make sure of where you really are. For example, if it's a genuine Facebook page, the address will begin with www.facebook.com.
3. When you receive emails, posts or messages, never assume they're from who they say they are — even if they're friends.
Be especially wary if:
– They ask for money; don't send it without independently verifying the source.
– They invite you to download a program.
– They contain an attachment (most social networking site operators, including Facebook, don't send attachments).
4. Don't give your password to anyone. Make it a tough one to guess and change it frequently. See Get Tough With Computer Passwords and Secret Questions for more advice on passwords.
If, for any reason, you're asked to change your password, visit the social networking site by keying its address into your browser, not by clicking a link.
5. If you receive or hear of an offer, like a free gift card, it's often a scam. If you're not sure, go to the website of or contact the company that's supposedly offering the card and check it out with them.
6. Know that if you post your picture and personal details about yourself, you are, at least to some degree, laying yourself open to a possible identity theft.
Many people do choose to do this, but you should, at least, know the risk.
Click here for the FBI's page on Internet scams.