I’ve deleted my Facebook page and I’d like to explain why. Over the last few years I’ve pickpocketed tens of thousands of people, skimmed thousands of bank cards, hacked phones, made hundreds of fake passports & counterfeit driving licences and stolen the identities of more innocent victims than I can remember… but I’m no criminal.

As a child I became fascinated with the art of picking pockets and like anyone fascinated with something, I began to study - the history of pickpockets, the special language they use, psychological tricks and the sleight of hand techniques they adopt. I met and learned from street thieves and somehow managed to turn these, admittedly rather niche skills into a career as an entertainer, stealing and giving it all back for fun. But the more I learned, the more I realised that physically picking pockets was a dying art because like most businesses, theft was moving online.

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When I was writing my last theatre show I began to wonder if I could steal something more than wallets, watches, jewellery and phones. Could I steal the identity of a member of the audience? It turned out the answer was, ‘Yes, eight times a week including matinees’ although finding that answer involved a journey via police, respected academics and criminals into a murky world of scammers, con men and thieves. So I suppose it was inevitable that when my identity theft show opened in the West End, that the police would take an interest in what I was up to. What I didn’t anticipate was the thoroughness of their vetting or that when they were finally satisfied that I was on the right side of the law, they would invite me to become the UK Fraud Prevention Ambassador. Now I pick pockets, hack phones, reveal passwords and PIN numbers to show just how easily our digital lives can be destroyed.

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I often refer to Facebook as “the fraudster’s friend”. It is the first place I go to when trying to target somebody. Photos of their family, homes, schools and workplaces, travel habits, friends and the answers to security questions are all frequently available. The amount of personal information people willingly give Mark Zuckerberg & co is as astonishing as it is foolhardy. If you don’t believe me, just download a copy of your data – it takes just three clicks and for most users, is enough to change their social media habits. You see on Facebook, even savvy users who have checked all their security settings are only as safe as their least secure friend. It doesn’t matter how locked down your own account may be, if anyone likes your profile picture then I can see their name and find their account. Perhaps they have photos of your wedding or your last holiday? Perhaps that friend request from a long lost colleague is actually me, hiding behind a stolen photo?

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The page I deleted was just a public page with videos, some fraud prevention advice and news about my live shows and the odd TV appearance. There was no personal information there so I wasn’t particularly worried about the risk. So why delete it? The truth is I don’t want to give anyone any reason to stay on Facebook. I don’t know why it took me so long and from today, Facebook free, I won’t ask you to change your password or check your privacy settings… because I think you should delete your account too.

James Freedman
UK Fraud Prevention Ambassador… and thief


How to delete your Facebook account safely.

Of course, Facebook have a few tricks to keep you signed up, after all they are making billions with your data, so you’ll quickly find their preferred option to deactivate your account but that just means it’s not deleted and they still keep all your data! Even if you do deactivate, Facebook Messenger keeps on working, collecting your information and reading your messages, so you need to deactivate Messenger too… but you can only do that if you’ve already deactivated your main Facebook account. See how simple they’ve made it for you?

Interestingly, completely deleting a Facebook account is not without risk. Get it wrong and you could be worse off. Before deleting, check all websites or apps that you access using your Facebook name and password and close them or set up independent login details, otherwise you may lock yourself out of those. The most recent Facebook failure effectively compromised all those third party sites and apps for 30 million users. The previous failure featuring Cambridge Analytica affected 87 million users who unknowingly had their personal data used for political or financial benefit. What data? Facebook has admitted it revealed phone numbers, emails, usernames, gender, local language, religion, relationship status, hometown, current city, date of birth, make & model of all devices used to access Facebook, education history, employer details, type of work, the last 10 places users checked into or were tagged in, websites, people or Facebook pages they follow and the 15 most recent searches. Never mind hackers, do you really still want to share your life with Facebook? If you do, then at the very least please turn off Facebook's integration with apps, games and websites to reduce the amount of your private information given or sold to third parties.

Finally, before deleting your account I recommend you change your password to prevent any of your own devices automatically signing in again, because if you log back in to the account too soon after deleting it, your delete request is cancelled and the account it restored. Facebook really doesn’t want to lose all your valuable data.

Which is why if you do ask Facebook to delete your account, it’s rather like an addict asking their dealer for help. You’ll need enough willpower to go cold turkey for 14 days before they “initiate the deletion process” and even then, if you change your mind within a month, your request will be cancelled. Even after all that, Facebook say it can take up to three months for them to delete all your information.