I’m sitting in a meeting room in Cambridge when a photo of a cat in a jigsaw box appears on the whiteboard. “Is this your cat?” asks anti-fraud expert Steve Goddard. I nod. “Is he called Chester?” I nod again.
And so begins a whistlestop tour of my life online. My delight at seeing my cat’s sit-down protest against my puzzle addiction slowly turns to unease about the overall picture that Goddard, who works for a company called Featurespace that detects and prevents scams, has been piecing together.
In the next five minutes I discover that details of my school lunchtime activities are available if you know where to look, that I take far more photos of flowers than I had realised, and that I have offered scammers enough information for them to have a chance of reeling me in.
These snippets are tools that Goddard says a fraudster could use as a starting point to “socially engineer” me – someone could use them to gain my trust and manipulate me into handing over details they could then deploy in a scam. “It starts to disarm you because you think ‘no one would ever know that’ and you think ‘I must know them,’” he says.
Goddard shows me a tweet where I expressed my despair at a delivery firm failing to find my house, and suggests it would have been easy for someone to pose as the courier and get more out of me. Or, he suggests: “If I wanted to socially engineer you I could pretend to be a…