Social media users are inadvertantly helping computer hackers by declaring their love for their favourite football teams online.
Police warn that posting profile or cover pictures on Facebook or Twitter of striking legends such as Sunderland’s Niall Quinn or Newcastle United’s Alan Shearer gives criminals potential clues as to what account passwords are likely to be.
The danger also extends to teenagers using images of their favourite pop stars on their social media pages.
Detective Sergeant Martin Wilson, of the combined North-East police cyber-crime unit, said hackers are increasingly turning to social engineering - where they piece together their next target’s identity through studying various online profiles - to ultimately gain access to their bank accounts.
He added: “If I was to put myself in a criminal’s shoes and I looked at someone’s Facebook profile and saw that they had a picture of Niall Quinn scoring a goal then I might play around with some combination of Quinny9 to see where that got me.
“It would be the same with a Newcastle fan who had a picture of Alan Shearer scoring a goal. I would be asking myself if his Facebook password was Shearer9 or Shearer09 and so it goes on with other players and even the teams.
“In this area, safc1973 is tempting because that is when Sunderland won the FA Cup and so it goes on elsewhere in the region and country.
“These are all tell-tale signs and the research shows it is happening.
“When I go around speaking to members of the public and businesses passing on information I tell them about the dangers of using such passwords and you see people starting to shake their heads because it must apply to them.
“I saw it not so long back when I was speaking to people in Newcastle.
“And it’s not just football teams. It’s any sport, celebrity, hobby or pastime you openly suggest you follow.”
All this week this paper, along with Johnston Press sister titles nationwide, is investigating the growing menace of cyber crime by highlighting both the methods used by hackers and the ways in which they can be combated.
Det Sgt Wilson, whose role offering cyber safety advice covers the Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland force areas, continued: “The problem is that many of us are creatures of habit for an easy life.
“What we use for one password we use for more than online account and so hackers will move from social media accounts to opening your email accounts and then using that information to enter your bank accounts.”
He stressed, however, that there is nothing wrong in showing affection for a particular team or celebrity on social media accounts as long as your passwords are not linked to your images.
Det Sgt Wilson said: “The internet can be safe and a great asset to us. It is all about basic cyber hygiene and not letting them put two and two together about you through your digital footprint.
“Use one, by all means, but not the two together. Otherwise it is a bit like leaving your doors and windows of your home open or your car unlocked.”