Social networks have become an integral part of our everyday lives. With smart mobile devices and high speed cellular and WiFi networks easily within reach, most Americans have viewed their social media accounts before their feet hit the floor in the morning. As of January 2021, over 72% of the US population is connected to a social network, making it the 31st most-penetrated nation in social media (source: Statista 2021). With a lion’s share of consumers connected to social networks, scammers have access to large sums of potential victims within a few keystrokes. Social Media Scams can take on a wide variety of convincing pretexts, all with the intent of capturing your money, your personal information, or both.
Now, before you start closing your social media accounts for good, we have provided some ways to stay vigilant as you continue to enjoy interacting with your personal networks. With awareness and care, you can enjoy scrolling, double-tapping, and swiping your way through the day as you dodge the scammer’s ploy.
Common Social Media Scams to Watch Out for
Consumers and businesses have lost over $100 billion due to internet fraud. In 2017, the Better Business Bureau reported 45,811 scams in the U.S.. Each year that number continues to climb. While the tactics and pretexts may vary, social media scams most often hide in plain sight, which makes them especially challenging to avoid. Here are some common ones to spot as you browse.
1. “Give Your Email/Phone Number for More” Scam
Most scams on social media claim victims this way – by offering something but asking for your email/phone number/other personal information to gain access. This can manifest on Facebook, Instagram, and more, and is commonly seen as:
- Free gift card offers: The gift card scam is usually initiated through random phone calls, text messages, mailings or social media. The scam artist claims to promote the gift card on behalf of a major company or in other cases promises a gift card for completing a survey. The goal of the scam is simple: get personal financial information and sell it to thieves, simply steal the identity of the victim, or charge people money for things they do not need.
- How to avoid becoming a victim: The scam only works if the consumer decides to participate. If you receive a solicitation for a free gift card, do not give out financial information like your bank account number or credit card number. Watch for indications that the advertisement is bogus. Many scams contain misspellings and bad grammar. Be wary of solicitations from sources you do not know or that you did not initiate.
- Lottery winner messages: This offer is typically presented as an ad in your social feed and indicates you have been randomly selected or you have won a contest you don’t recall entering. The ad usually takes you to a website that requires you to provide personal information like your phone number, address, or email address to claim the winnings. Some offers may even require that you enter your banking information to have the proceeds wired directly to your bank account.
- How to avoid becoming a victim: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Scammers will say anything to get your money. Reputable drawings and contests usually require that you provide information before you are selected, not afterward. If you are asked to enter banking information, remember that the surprise winnings are not likely worth sacrificing your savings or your identity.
- Gated content (enter your email to read more): Besides your name, an email address is the most public piece of personal information you have. An email account is a goldmine for thieves. If a thief gets a hold of your email account, you may be vulnerable to being attacked elsewhere. Many passwords can be reset via email so a thief with access to your email can reset ALL your passwords. By hacking into your email, thieves may contact the victims’ friends and family claiming they’re in some financial trouble and ask that they transfer money to a fake account.
- How to avoid becoming a victim: You should never trust an email that isn’t from someone you trust. Exercise caution even if it’s supposedly a family member or good friend sending you an email. When in doubt, try to contact them directly over the phone or through social media to see if their request is legitimate. If a scammer has your email address, you should try to change the password immediately. Once you’ve changed your password to something stronger, try adding a two-factor authentication security measure to your account.
2. Facebook & Instagram Message Scams
Fraudsters have a unique opportunity for misinformation – your social network’s private messaging system. In such an intimate setting, you might not expect for someone to present themselves as a close friend or known organization you admire. That’s exactly what happens on an ever-growing basis. Here are some specific ways a scammer might try to “start a conversation”:
- Healthcare-related message: In this new world of global health concern and hyper-awareness, perpetrators of misinformation and fraud flourish. Scammers will often take on an official presence, appearing as a government agency or major healthcare provider and offer to provide coverage or share critical news.
- How to avoid becoming a victim: Fact-checking outside of your social network’s site or app can assure validity of an offer/alert. Verify that the web addresses and phone numbers match those on a government agency or healthcare provider’s actual website and consider sending the information to the Office of the Inspector General if you are concerned.
- Account cancelled: Another common phishing attempt involves a message or email from your social network letting you know that your account has been suspended or cancelled. The scam involves a demand that you respond with your login information to re-enable access to your account. Often the message will have poor grammar and if sent via email, will be poorly formatted and will come from an unrecognizable address.
- Messages from “Friends and family” asking for money: Someone may send you a message claiming to be a friend or family member desperate for money. Scammers will play with your emotions. They’re counting on you to act quickly to help you “friends and family”. They are counting on you to pay without stopping to check out whether there really is an emergency.
- How to avoid becoming a victim: If you receive a message claiming to be a “friend or family member”, call or message the friend or family member who supposedly contacted you. Call them at the phone number that you know is right and check if they’re really in trouble. You can also call someone in your circle of friends or someone else in your family. A trusted person can help you figure out whether the story is true.
3. “Have You Seen This Photo of You?” Scam
This scam involves a question that piques someone’s interest and then directs them to a fake login screen. The person receives a message, such as “Have you seen this photo of you?” with a link to click on. Once clicking on the link, it prompts that person to enter their log-in credentials on a fake log in screen. Once the user name and password are entered into the fake site, the scammers now have access to the account. Once the scammers have access, they will send out the same message to all of the victims’ contacts or followers and try to trick them too.
This is the very reason why computer users are cautioned to never click on a link or open an attachment if they weren’t expecting it, even if it appears to come from someone they know. It’s important to mention this scam is being used by strangers on social media, meaning it did not come from someone you know; if you have a large network of friends on social media, it’s highly likely you probably don’t know every single person by name. In this case, it’s best to skip the link altogether and just ignore the message.
If you fall victim to this scam and your account information was put into a fake site, change your password right away. Set up two-factor authentication, this way you can get alerted if there is an unrecognized sign in to your account.
How to Protect Yourself from Social Media Fraud
As social media platforms continue to grow in popularity, they have become major targets for scammers. These platforms are packed with content, so there is lots of camouflage for malicious links and scams. Social media platforms also encourage you to share information and connect with people, which opens you up to phishing scams.
It is understandable that no one wants to give up on social media altogether. There are a lot of important social interactions that take place on these platforms. While the risks are undeniable, you should certainly enjoy yourself when you browse social media, but remember the following tips to protect yourself:
- Your conscience is your best tool to avoid becoming a fraud victim. If it doesn’t look or seem right, it’s probably best to keep scrolling.
- Calls for urgency, whether in an ad or a direct message, are an immediate red-flag. In an emergency or time-sensitive situation, most who are in a crisis or want to provide you with something you have earned will contact you another way.
- Look for inconsistencies in grammar or photos as likely indications that the entity is illegitimate. If the message or ad is worded very poorly or the images are blurry, perhaps you should reconsider engaging with the person or offer.
- You can always verify the authenticity of a business provider by visiting their website via a search engine or calling a published phone number instead of clicking or tapping through an ad or message. Take a breath, then take a second look outside of the social network.
- Set your profile to private so that only your friends can send you messages through your network’s private messaging system. When you receive emails, always check the actual address of the sender to consider whether it appears legitimate.
Social media is a great way to connect with friends and family. Our lives have become increasingly public as we share a variety of personal information on various social media platforms. Despite its benefits, social media also has its risks; it can be used as a tool by scammers to take advantage of people. With social media scams evolving and growing quickly, it’s important to be mindful of the types of scams out there and know how to recognize the red flags.
To learn more about scams and how to protect your information, visit our blog for more articles on fraud awareness, identity theft, ways to protect your information, and take a look at our security center.
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