'Once it's out there, it's out there': Financial crimes unit sergeant speaks to dangers of sharing personal information online
While sharing on social media has become second nature for many, police are reminding the public that what they share has the potential to end up in the wrong hands.
CTV News sat down with Sgt. Shaun Veldman, the supervisor of Winnipeg Police Service’s financial crimes unit to talk about the changing nature of fraud.
Veldman said while in the past, many attempts at fraud used generic, random emails, criminals have now developed more sophisticated and targeted methods.
A trend the unit has observed: criminals taking to social media to gather personal information in order to tailor their approach.
“But now, they have the ability to go in and find out exactly what you are all about: what are all your likes, or dislikes, where you live, how old you are,” said Veldman.
“And then contacting you and having a scam or scheme that’s kind of engineered socially to target you, and is going to prey on your potential vulnerabilities.”
Giving multiple examples, including teenagers posting pictures of their drivers’ license when they start driving, Veldman stressed that once people post sensitive details, the information is out there for good.
“They may not be a victim ‘till 25, when somebody stumbles across their long history of social online activity, it doesn’t change,” said Veldman.
Veldman spends his days working to help people who have been victimized, but said prevention is key in a world where stolen money disappears quickly and is often impossible to get back.
“It tugs at your heart strings in some of these situations,” said Veldman.
“There’s a lot of money being lost, and it’s oftentimes people who don’t even have the ability to recover from that kind of loss.”
In dealing with victims, Veldman said empathy is an important part of the work his team does.
As technology continues to evolve and criminals continue to operate in different ways, Veldman also said education is an important tool.
“We have to really not just street proof kids, but we have to street proof everybody,” said Veldman.
“We don’t want everybody to go to the school of hard knocks.”
Simple information can make people vulnerable: analyst
Crime analyst Riley Johansson pointed to two simple pieces of information that can make a person vulnerable to being profiled: their name and birthday.
Johansson explained that when people use their full name and birthday on social media, they could potentially be providing criminals with a foundation to build upon.
“Even that benign information, it can be a springboard for somebody obtaining further information on you,” said Johansson.
“I can now go online and start finding out more information about you as an individual: where you went to high school, other social media platforms that you might be on. I think that can be a vulnerability that’s exploited.”
Johansson suggested web users mitigate those circumstances by not putting the information out there.
Privacy settings is another tool Johansson recommended people look at regularly, as well as being mindful of how posted photos can give an in depth look at one’s surroundings and those they associate with.
Dr. Richard Forno is a senior lecturer, and the director of the Graduate Cybersecurity Program for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Forno explained that as a person navigates across the internet they leave a trail of data or ‘digital footprints’ behind that make it easier to be tracked, particularly by advertisers.
Speaking about a term called “culture jamming,” Forno said there are ways to make it harder to follow digital footprints.
“Not impossible. But it adds another obstacle between someone trying to create a full profile on you.”
Forno suggested logging in or creating a user account on social media with a disposable email account that isn’t tied to a real name or identity.
In recent years, Forno also said he’s seen web browser plug-ins that can create “noise” as a person surfs the internet.
“It will create random junk, or go to various sites behind-the-scenes to further mask your legitimate activity from prying eyes or from advertisers,” said Forno.
“So the idea of creating a false digital footprint isn’t just for paranoid people: more people are starting to realize it may not be a bad idea to make it a little more difficult to be tracked online.”