By Katherine (Kate) Lee Carey, Special Counsel, Cooley LLP
Not long ago, I received a message via Facebook Messenger from my good friend Vic. He said he was enjoying a wonderful vacation golfing in Scotland – but had lost his wallet and his passport and was trapped at his hotel trying to figure out what to do. He asked if I could loan him $500 to get an emergency passport to get home. Now normally, Vic could ask me for a kidney and I would ask which one he wanted, but something about this didn’t seem right. First of all, Vic has four kids under the age of 10. And Vic drives a 1992 Honda Accord. Somehow, it seemed genuinely unlikely that he left his wife and kids at home to golf in Scotland. So I texted Vic and asked. His response indicated that he was at work in Denver, definitely not golfing. I called him and filled him in on his message asking for money. First he laughed at the very idea of affording a trip to Scotland, but then became very concerned that someone less suspicious than I might have been targeted. As it turns out, someone hacked his Facebook account and had sent the same message to a number of his friends, preying on their relationship with Vic in hopes of making a few dollars (or Euros, as the case may be.) A couple of them were actually in the process of figuring out how to get him the money when he notified them about the scam.
The moral of the story is twofold: 1) someone with four kids who drives a 25 year old Honda is probably not golfing in Scotland, and 2) Internet scammers will use the information they can gather about you to target their messaging, to prey on your feelings, your relationships, and your situation, in an effort to defraud you.
As our reliance on the Internet and involvement in social media grow, so too do the data collection activities tied to everything we share. And there is an entire world of savvy data collectors who are targeting us every day based on the collection of our likes and dislikes, our searching and buying activity online – with ads embedded in our social media accounts and in banner ads appearing every time we open a browser.