Facebook customer service scam just one of many

In today’s world of information gathering, Google seems to be a first stop for most. But how can you be so sure the information showing up in search results is accurate?

A recent NPR story discussed the question of what you would do if searching for a phone number to reach Facebook.

A Google search for “Facebook customer service” would likely be first, as there is no direct customer service number listed on the Facebook website. However, when the folks at NPR called, they reported there was suspicious mumbling in the background.

They then gave the number to Pindrop, a company that works to crack down on phone fraud, which then tried the number and connected to a real person … but it wasn’t anyone from Facebook.

The voice on the other end of the line posed as a Facebook employee, and said in order to reactivate the user’s Facebook account, they needed to go to Walmart or Target and buy an iTunes card.

He instructed the Pindrop researcher to call back on that same number and give him the 16-digit security code on the back of the card. Only then could the Facebook account be reactivated.

A Google spokesperson told NPR that they have removed the fraudulent number, but surely there are similar scams out there going unnoticed.

Google data states that “Facebook Customer Service” gets searched about 27,000 times a month in the U.S., according to NPR.

With that level of opportunity, surely you’ll find a few gullible souls willing to do anything to get their Facebook problems solved, although Facebook actually does not have a number for users to call if there’s an issue with your account. If you need help you can visit the help center online.

It’s pretty easy to say that nobody would fall for such a scam, but these types of online fraud continue to succeed. Just take a look at the Nigerian prince scam that has lasted in various forms for decades.

More common now are various scams originating from Ghana where the unemployment rate is dangerously high, but the internet connection is strong.

When I recently discovered a family member was deeply involved in several of these scams I was shocked and horrified, but then began doing some research. These people spend hours upon hours cultivating messages, forming relationships, targeting email accounts, gathering fake photos, etc., in an effort to scam users out of money. It’s more than just a scam, but a lifestyle for these people.

The family member told me he was were certain about the gold he was acquiring, since he saw a photo of it, but a photo can be stolen from anywhere on the internet.

Same with a phone number showing up in Google search results — it seems legit if it’s appearing there, so there’s no cause for distrust, right?

If something looks suspicious, speak up and ask someone about it. When you find something that seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Angela Gosnell is an online producer for knoxnews.com. She may be reached at 865-342-6351 or angela.gosnell@knoxnews.com.

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Researchers Release An App To Help With App Permissions

Several researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have now created an Android application that helps users to understand and manage the permissions of other Android applications. Privacy Assistant – as the app has been named – will not be available to everybody, since it does require root-level system permissions to function. It also currently requires a specific version of Android, further narrowing the breadth of possible users. Privacy Assistant is the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon University researchers Jason Hong and Norman Sadeh and is part of a more broad study into app permissions which is being conducted by the university.

Every month, millions of new app installations occur. Of course, when installing new apps, users are keen to know what personal data is being accessed and how that is being used. Finding that out is not always easy because it is not always immediately obvious whether or not an application requires access to any of the various methods by which data is created and stored on devices. Moreover, it is not always obvious why some applications require access to certain things, like the camera, microphone, or location data. Some developers have taken steps to alleviate some of the confusion with explanations in their app’s descriptions, but the majority of developers have not. Additionally, for users to toggle application permissions manually a measure of patience and an inordinate amount of time are required. A user typically has to go through each application’s permissions individually and one application at a time. That’s where Privacy Assistant comes in. The application uses “machine learning” to assist users in determining which permissions are acceptable and which applications will be granted which permissions all in one place. The developers claim that unlike other applications, Privacy Assistant asks various initial questions of users in order to provide a more personalized experience. Similarly-focused apps often tend to offer more broad solutions across all users. Since the application is part of a research study, it should be noted that meta-data will likely be compiled based both on those answers and on general use of the application. Unfortunately, running a version of Android Lollipop (OS 5.x) is currently required to use the application, although the app description in the play store does say that an update is currently being tested to bring compatibility with Android Marshmallow.

App permissions are one of the major concerns that have been associated with the Android platform as part of a greater awareness of the security pitfalls associated with technology, which has been brought to the forefront over the past several years. Google did reveal a set of guidelines on their Android Developer website in January with hopes of getting developers on the platform to be more conscientious about the app permissions required by their applications. However, not every developer is willing or necessarily able to go back through all of their code to ensure their applications are permissions-savvy. Until then, users can count on an ever growing number of applications just like Privacy Assistant to gain some peace of mind.

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