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The rise of ‘smugging’ - social media mugging

24th October 2011 Print

As increasing numbers of Britons sign up to social networking sites, more and more are falling victim to a new phenomenon: smugging (social media mugging).  New research from credit card provider Capital One reveals that social networks have been accessed without permission more than 60 million times in the last year – the equivalent of 1.9 profiles smugged every second.

Given the popularity of Facebook amongst the UK population, it is perhaps not surprising 91% of smugging victims fell prey to smugging on their Facebook account. That’s 16% of all Facebook users in Great Britain.  However, 9% of all Twitter and 7% of all LinkedIn users claim their account has suffered a similar fate over the past 12 months.

The Capital One findings, released to coincide with National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, pinpoints ‘friends’ as the most common smugging culprits (36%). Obviously curious to see what their partner has been up to, one in five (21%) people say their partner has logged into their social networking account without prior consent.   Yet more shockingly, one in 10 claim their ex-partner has accessed at least one of their accounts and then snooped around their profile. 

On the whole, smuggers are opportunistic, taking advantage of others not logging out of their profile on their personal computer (29%) or mobile phone (15%). In comparison, only 5% say their account has been hacked into on purpose. However, it seems that those who have fallen prey to smugging don’t learn from past experience – on average their social networking profiles are accessed without their permission 9.9 times every year.

The most common results of smugging are posting an inappropriate comment or update on their victim’s profile (43%), sending a message to their contacts (25%) or changing of personal details (24%).

While a smugging can seem like a harmless prank at the time, there are often serious repercussions: over 30,000 people have gotten into trouble at work and more than 18,000 believe they’ve been passed over for promotion because of smugging.  Similarly, with a third (35%) of Britons keeping important details such as addresses, bank PIN codes or friends’ contact details in their profiles, there is a real possibility that smugging can take a much more sinister turn and could result in identity theft.   

Michael Woodburn, Chief Marketing Officer, Capital One said:  “Social networking sites are a great way to stay in touch with friends and family. Yet in the excitement of connecting with those around us, remembering to protect your online profile can often take a back seat, which can leave people open to smugging, or worse, identity theft.  Small actions like protecting your mobile with a password, using a password that is a combination of numbers and letters and regularly checking bank and credit card statements, can go a long way in helping people protect themselves against a smugging attack and identity theft.”

The Capital One Identity Theft Assistance Service helps customers protect themselves against the risk of ID theft as well as helping them ‘pick up the pieces’ if they do encounter a problem. It is the only service of its kind to provide a named advisor free to offer assistance at every stage of the recovery and resolution process.

Capital One World MasterCard customers also benefit from a free Identity Alert Service, powered by Equifax. Acting as an early warning system, customers are alerted by email within seven days if someone applies for credit using their name, or if key changes are made to their Equifax credit file with or without consent.