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Criminal Use of Social Media

NCJ Number
Date Published
9 pages
This white paper discusses how criminals are using social media and Web 2.0 technologies to perpetrate new and traditional "white-collar" crimes.
The most popular form of social media is social networking, which consists of websites that enable users to create online profiles that include the posting of recent personal and professional information about their lives through pictures, videos, and related content. Websites with these features include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the nearly defunct Myspace. Criminals patrol social media looking for ways to exploit the personal information of an individual or family for financial gain. Burglars can peruse the personal information of families in their vicinity to determine when they will be absent from their houses. Another criminal technique for exploiting users of social media is the use of "social engineering," which refers to the social and psychological manipulation of individuals and groups to promote personal or political goals based on fraudulent claims and information. This technique, known as "phishing," can be used for financial gain through identity theft. The prevalence of criminal activity on social media sites is difficult to determine, since there are currently no comprehensive statistics on social media crimes. There are some estimates on the prevalence of identity theft based on reports to law enforcement agencies (16.6 percent) for 2010. In addition to identity theft, cyberstalking has also been estimated to be a prevalent offense on social media. Examples and case studies of the criminal use of social media are included, along with prevention tips.