The Games in London are being touted as ‘the first social media Olympics', and London's organisers are embracing the opportunities social networks provide for sharing the event with fans around the world.
Social media platforms have exploded since the 2008 Olympics in China, with the number of Twitter users increasing from six million to around 150 million and Facebook members rising from 100 million to 900 million. Traffic on these sites during the Olympics will soar as people check in at stadium locations, share photos, update statuses and tweet snippets of commentary during major events.
To support this demand, the number of WiFi spots across London is being dramatically increased, with BT announcing that it is on track to provide 500,000 WiFi hotspots around London in time for the Olympic Games, including 1,000 hotspots in the Olympic park.
These moves reflect how our online habits have changed, and these changes have the potential to play into the hands of today's more advanced criminals who are using technology as part of their ammunition. Online fraud is growing rapidly, as criminals take advantage of the treasure troves of personal information held in virtual places such as social networking sites.
Social media seems a safe place to share personal information such as birth date, first school, pet names and maiden names. Does this grouping of personal facts sound familiar? Criminals know that these are often the answers to security questions on websites that hold sensitive financial information about a person.
During the Olympics, sport enthusiasts and patriots will be all a buzz about who is winning what and readily using the online channel not just to share pictures and tweets, but also fund memorabilia, souvenirs and their share of meal costs. This can create a perfect storm for opportunistic Olympic fraudsters.
Smartphones are a weak link for Generation Y in particular and fraudsters are able to easily take advantage of the lax security controls often employed by their owners. Although people's PCs are usually password protected, it is startling how comparatively few people take the same precaution with their mobile devices.
With access to this relatively basic information, a criminal can do a number of things: from taking over existing financial accounts, to using these details to set up a new account. This could then result in the criminal withdrawing funds, making fraudulent purchases, and creating new utilities accounts (mobile phone, gas, electricity, etc.) Apart from the obvious implications of theft – this type of activity can also ruin a person's credit rating. Often the first a victim will know of fraudulent activity is when they are contacted by debt collectors.
The internet is part of our everyday lives now and for that reason it is easy to overlook the amount of personal information that is available out there. What's more, accessing social networking sites on the move is a habit fraudsters won't have missed.
The Olympics gives them the perfect opportunity to try to tap these networks to siphon off sensitive information. So to keep fraudsters from winning at the Olympics, abide by this simple mantra to keep your personal data safe - if it's not information you would give to a stranger on the street, don't post it online.
Mike Urban is director of financial crime risk management at Fiserv