As National Identity Fraud Prevention Week moves towards its conclusion, new claims have been made on alternative methods of identity theft.

Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion, wrote in a blog post on the digital identity forum that real identity theft involves malicious account takeover of social networking profiles.

Birch said: “OK, so we all know that a virtual identity can be worth something. That also makes it worth stealing, and it's much easier for people to steal your virtual identity than your physical identity.

“Compared to someone stealing a credit card, this is a much worse crime, isn't it? While Bebo, MySpace and Facebook users are undoubtedly becoming better educated about identity, privacy, security and so forth, the lack of any real (i.e., not password-based) security for these critical virtual identities make them an obvious focus for criminals.”

Birch claimed that the ‘419' crowd have made Facebook their new frontier as they taking over Facebook identities and then using them to perpetrate inventive frauds.

Birch said: “A current favourite is the ‘friend in distress'. If you got a message, via Facebook, from a good friend telling you that they are in Paris and have been mugged and desperately need money quickly and could you wire them $500 immediately, what would you do? Plenty of people send the cash, not suspecting that their friend's identity has been stolen.

“It's easy to do this: you just need the password. And those are easy to obtain: just send out a spam ‘this is Facebook, we're just checking our security systems, please log in' message. And when you do find out you've been scammed, where do you go?”

Birch claimed that this is real identity theft and believed that this has much more personal impact on the victims than the theft of the money. If someone takes over your Facebook page or your LinkedIn page they really have stolen your virtual identity as you are deprived of the use of that identity, and if you can persuade Facebook to issue you with a new password, how will your friends begin to trust that identity again?

Birch said: “If you can't get control and regain trust, that means you have to abandon that identity and start all over again, building an entirely new online footprint. This is much more important, looking forward, than what we currently see as the ‘identity theft' problem, which as far as I can see from most reporting is about the tangible subset of identity theft concerned with payment cards.”