Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hackers take aim at Facebook users

Kimberly Potts calls Facebook her "lifeline" to her son Justin, who is serving in Iraq with the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Army National Guard. It's helped her stay in contact with him, to see photos of his Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas.

But late last month it also served as a gateway to scammers, who attempted to steal access to credit cards and bank accounts from the Potts family and many of Justin's friends. Justin's Facebook page had been hacked by criminals.

In West Newbury, friends of Pentucket High School senior Matt McCarthy, who died suddenly during a hockey practice, did what thousands of people do — they set up a Facebook page to honor their friend's memory. Within days it had been savaged by posters from other parts of the country who posted swastikas, racial epithets and vicious comments. The page, which had been open to all, was quickly shut off from the public and the hurtful posts were stripped.

With more than 200 million users, Facebook has become a wildly popular forum for people to find old friends, learn about their personal information and keep in touch. But it's also been heavily mined by scammers and used for bullying and taunting.

Users like Kimberly Potts and investigators like Newburyport Police Inspector Brian Brunault say people should be cautious.

"Everything is dark on the Internet," Brunault said, noting he's investigating a case of a Newburyporter whose Facebook account was hacked and identity was stolen. Facebook is inundated with complaints and subpoenas from those who have had problems on the site, he said.

"It takes virtually weeks if not months to get returns on these things," Brunault said. "There is harassment on there, cyber bullying, people post as other people to start trouble and then the thread gets connected and more people jump on board." eagletribune

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