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Don't let Scammers identify you through your mobile number warn Highland Trading Standards

10th July 2017

Trading Standards officers at The Highland Council have discovered a new scam threat to local consumers. A local man was cheated out of a substantial sum by a conman posing as a reputable property landlord who used the man's mobile number to find out personal information from his Facebook account.

David MacKenzie, Highland Council’s Trading Standards manager explains:

"We received an enquiry from a Highland student who had placed a ‘flat wanted’ advert in an online classified ads website. His advert had only his mobile number, no name or other identification details. He received a call from a man who seemed really plausible and who namechecked people and places the student knew. After allegedly “carrying out checks", the caller got back in touch and offered a room in a flat in return for a holding deposit”.

The student was keen to secure the flat and sent the deposit by bank transfer. Unfortunately there was no flat, it was a total scam.

David MacKenzie continued: “There was little we could do to help the consumer; a bank transfer is a bit like handing over cash and there is little chance of recovering the money. Plus the crime here is fraud rather than a Trading Standards matter so we passed the information to the Police.”

Trading Standards receive information every day about scams of all sorts and a major part of their role in tackling them is to pre-warn consumers to stop them being cheated in the first place. After the event is often too late.

David MacKenzie explained: “We examined the case to determine how the scammer knew so much about the student from just a telephone number and no name. It turned out that the information was gleaned from the student’s Facebook account; despite the fact that he thought his Facebook profile was set to not disclose his mobile number. There are two key settings on Facebook dealing with your mobile phone number; (1) Who can see your mobile number and (2) Who can look you up by your mobile. It seems most people understand the first setting but we suspect many people don’t realise the potential implications of anyone being able to find your identity from just your mobile number.”

So the lesson from this story is for consumers to make sure that their Facebook settings are what they want them to be.

David MacKenzie added:“There may be good security reasons to have your mobile linked to your social media account but that doesn’t mean you have to disclose it to anyone looking at your public profile or to allow people to find you using that number. Essentially what we are saying here is that if a scammer has only your mobile number but not your name and no other identifying information, they can still try and search Facebook to see if you’re listed. Some people might be comfortable with the idea that they can be traced using their mobile number but we think many consumers will not want that identifying information to be made available in this way. It can lead to them being scammed as happened in this case.

“We are advising consumers that if you don’t want people to be able to find your Facebook profile by using your mobile number then you will have to change the privacy setting on ‘Who can look me up’. For example, change that from the default setting of ‘Everyone’ to just your friends.”

Facebook have a help page on this topic at https://www.facebook.com/help/131297846947406 or via this shortcut www.tinyurl.com/whocanlookmeup

July is Scam Awareness Month (#ScamAware) and this year Citizens Advice Scotland and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is focusing on a number of key themes including:

Tackling under-reporting and stigma

This year’s campaign theme is ‘Play your part, act on scams’.

The campaign also focuses on how some scammer target specific age groups including in particular those aged 18-24. Highland Council Trading Standards see this message about mobile phone data and the potential pitfalls of sharing information on social media as being particularly important for young people who have grown up with these communication platforms.

More general online safety advice is available at #ScamAware and www.getsafeonline.org ”

 

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