Know your friends? Beware the latest Facebook scam


Two weeks ago, the status message for a guy named Bryan Rutberg was changed to read "BRYAN IS IN URGENT NEED OF HELP!!!" Simultaneously, his friends were e-mailed a plea for cash that said he had been robbed at gunpoint in the United Kingdom.

Bryan, of course, wasn't in the United Kingdom. He was at home in Seattle, in bed. (And even if he were in the U.K., he'd be very unlikely to be at gunpoint -- they're too hard to obtain there.) But his friends didn't know that. They thought he was really in trouble, and unable to get to a phone. A couple friends called him anyway, and Bryan realized his Facebook account had been hijacked. But when he tried to log into his page to set the record straight and warn everyone, he found that the scammers had locked him out so they could pose as him to beg for money in chats. By the time Rutberg was able to get back into his Facebook account, one of his friends (a Microsoft employee; please, no jokes) had wired $1,200 via Western Union to London.

The jig would have been up a lot earlier if only Facebook had a phone number to use to alert it to the profile hijacking. But it doesn't. Facebook forces members to use e-mail channels for privacy concerns. Rutberg had to e-mail Facebook to sound the alarm. But as we have all learned, e-mail, which is supposed to deliver quick communication, usually just encourages companies to procrastinate.