spamming your address book without your permission

I recently received a message from that looked like it was from a former employee who was searching for me on the site. Weird. Why would she look for me on a site targeted toward high school classmates? We grew up a country apart from each other.

Then I heard about the mess on a message board I frequent, and now the LA Times is writing about it... has found a sneaky way to email everyone in your address book without your permission.

The game goes like this: You get a message saying Bob Jones was looking for you at and you're supposed to visit the site to see who else has been searching for you. Once you get to the site, you're prompted to sign up for a free account. After you sign up, you receive a message like this: "We'll find your friends and family who are already members and also automatically invite any nonmembers to join (it's free!)."

The message itself isn't all that unusual. But what does next is unusual. Instead of accessing your address book from your Yahoo, Gmail, or other internet based account and then showing you a list and letting you choose who to contact or invite.... accesses your address book and immediately sends everyone an email without any warning or approval from you.

How embarrassing, especially if you've got professional contacts in your address book! And this is even worse than your typical viral email. Suppose someone decides to go to based upon your email, signs up for their own account, and also gets conned into letting access their address book? The cycle starts all over again.

It's sad when social networking sites get so desperate for members that they have to resort to these tactics to try to lure people in. This is dishonest and it is potentially damaging to consumers. A woman highlighted in the LA Times story said she was getting a bunch of emails from the 250 people in her address book who got spammed. What if those were important business contacts who decided to not do business with her anymore? I realize that would be an extreme reaction, but it could happen.

So heed this warning: If you get an email from, don't play into their little game and go to their site. Let's send them a message by not signing up for free accounts or by even visiting the site.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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