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Overblown Facebook Warning About 'Place of Birth' Game

Circulating Facebook message warns users not to play the "place of birth" game because the answer is one of your banking security questions and can be used by criminals to steal your identity and access your bank accounts.

Place of Birth Game

© IJdema

Brief Analysis
The warning is overblown and misleading. Users should certainly be careful of how much personal information they publicly disclose online. However, scammers would need to collect considerably more information than just your place of birth (or your pet's name) before they can hijack your bank accounts and steal your identity.

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This has been appearing on the feed all night...Place of birth!!!!!!!!! Everyone please play, it will be interesting to learn where all our FB friends were born. Copy paste and then put where you were born at the end ....DO NOT DO THIS!!! THIS IS ONE OF YOUR SECURITY QUESTIONS FOR YOUR BANK AND CREDIT CARDS!! Also, do not share your first pets name, where you grew up,'s nice to share with your friends, but you are opening yourself up to identity theft and when you post 'innocent little games like this' on your status you are putting your friends in danger...COPY AND PASTE THIS AND PASS IT ON. COPY THIS FROM A FRIEND

Detailed Analysis

Another breathless "security" warning is currently circulating on Facebook. According to the message, you should not participate in a status update "game" which asks users to enter their place of birth. It also warns against playing similar games that ask for details like the names of your pets or where you grew up.

The problem, warns the message, is that such questions are used as the security questions that protect your bank and credit card accounts. It suggests that the answers to such questions could be taken by scammers and used to steal your identity and hijack your accounts. The message implies that scammers are creating such games for this very purpose.

It is certainly true that we need to be very cautious about how much personal information we publicly disclose on our social networks or elsewhere on the Internet.

However, stealing identities and hijacking bank accounts is nowhere near as easy or straightforward as this overblown and misleading "warning" implies.

Criminals would need considerably more information than just your place of birth or the name of your pet to steal your identity and take control of your online accounts. It is true that such items are sometimes (but not always) used as security questions for accounts. These security questions can be used to regain access to your account should you forget your password or have other access problems.

However, the answer to one of these questions by itself is not going to give a criminal much to work with. He would need to know a lot more information such as who you bank with, your account or client number, your email address or other contact details and, in most cases, the answers to the OTHER security questions you have set for your account.

Moreover, information such as your place of birth is not particularly hard to find. Often, such details will already be recorded in your social network profiles. And elsewhere on the Internet and in publicly available records. If all a scammer needed to steal identities and hijack bank accounts was the answer to a rudimentary question such as where you were born, he could likely find the information he needed quickly and easily and without creating any silly status game.

Of course, a supposed game that asked, not just one question, but also a whole series of personal and financial questions in one go should certainly be treated as suspect.

And, canny identity thieves might collate a lot of personal information about a person over time through various means, including, possibly, an online game.
But, the vast majority of these status games really are innocent and have no malicious intent.

Mind you, the advice in the message not to participate in such games might be worth heeding. Playing such games is vastly unlikely to lead to your identity being stolen, but it will fill the feeds of your friends with even more inane and annoying drivel.

Overblown and misleading warnings such as this do little to enhance our online security. A much more sensible way of protecting ourselves online is to always make wise use of the privacy settings for our social networks and, in general, always be careful what information we make available anywhere on the Internet.

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Last updated: June 27, 2013
First published: June 27, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
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