Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

Posts about Identity Theft

Facebook Identity Theft

I get email:

Action Required: Confirm Your Facebook Account

Needless to say, I did not just register for Facebook.

Hrm. That’s weird, since my Facebook account dates back to 2007. Wait, there’s another email:

(219) 798-8705 added to your Facebook account

That’s not my phone number.

I’ve never seen that phone number before in my life. In fact, I removed my phone number from Facebook not long ago for privacy reasons. So what’s going on?

A quick look at the email address tells the story: It’s my Gmail address. Which I never use. Since I never use it, it’s not associated with any account, including Facebook. What’s happened is someone created a new Facebook account with my Gmail address. If I were to click the “Confirm your account” button, I would give someone else a valid Facebook account using my identity. It’d be even worse if I also approved the phone number. Doing so would cede complete control over this Facebook account to someone else. These kinds of messages are so common that it wouldn’t surprise me if some people just clicked those links and entered the confirmation code.

It’s only Facebook, you might think. But Facebook, isn’t “only” anything anymore. It’s a juggernaut. Facebook is so massive, and has promoted itself so heavily as an identity platform, that many organizations rely on it for identity proofing vias social logins. That means someone can “prove” they’re me by logging into that Facebook account. Via that foothold, they can gradually control other online accounts and effectively control the identity associated with my Gmail address.

That would not be good.

So after inspecting the email to make sure that its URLs are all actually on facebook.com, I visit the “please secure your account” link:

Secure your account?

This isn’t right…

This is a little worrying. It’s not that I think someone else is logging into my account. It’s that someone else has created an account using my Gmail address, and therefore a slice of my identity. Still, locking it down seems like a good idea. I hit the “Secure Account” button.

Secure your account?

What? Fuck no.

Now we’ve reached to the point point where I’m at risk of actually associating my physical photo ID with an account someone else created and controls? Fuck no. I don’t want to associate a photo ID with my real Facebook account, let alone one set up by some rando cybercriminal. Neither should you.

I close that browser tab, switch to another browser, and log into my real Facebook account. If the problem is that someone else wants proof of control over my Gmail address, I have to take it back. So I add my Gmail address to the settings for my real Facebook account, wait for the confirmation email, and hit the confirmation link.

Contact Email Confirmation

That should do it.

Great, that other account no longer has any control over my Gmail address. Hope it doesn’t have any other email addresses associated with it.

Oh, one more step: Facebook decided this new address should be my primary email address, so I had to change it back.

I don’t know how people without Facebook accounts would deal with this situation. Facebook needs to give people a way to say: “This is not me, this is not my account, I don’t want an account, please delete this bogus account.” It shouldn’t require uploading a photo ID, either.