With billions of users worldwide, social media platforms can be a breeding ground for illicit activity — from simple identity theft to sophisticated and wide-ranging fraud schemes. Here's an overview of some of the most common social media scams and tips to help prevent you or your business from becoming a fraud victim.
As with email, social media messages can trick users into clicking links and providing sensitive information, such as their usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers and financial account numbers. "Romance" scammers also use social media to pose as potential partners, manipulate the emotions of victims and then steal from them. Or bad actors may contact users about fake investment opportunities (particularly involving cryptocurrency), illegitimate contests, bogus lotteries and false inheritances.
To gain the trust of potential victims, fraud perpetrators often create accounts to impersonate their friends and family members or celebrities (including social media "influencers"). They might ask for financial help or pitch counterfeit or nonexistent products. Once the target bites and sends money, the fraud perpetrator disappears.
Fraudulent job postings are also common. For instance, a fake work-from-home offer might require upfront payment, supposedly for training, background checks or supplies. And some social media scammers offer help with technical issues. For instance, they might explain the dire consequences of failing to address a security threat and offer a solution that installs malware on your device.
To avoid being conned when using social media platforms, use the same antifraud measures you follow with email. Handle unsolicited messages cautiously and never click links contained in them or disclose sensitive information such as passwords or financial details. Legitimate organizations would never ask for this information through social media.
Treat unexpected friend requests from strangers with skepticism, even if you share a real-life friend (your real friend may not have exercised caution when accepting the friend request). Verify users' identities before engaging with them, and if you doubt the veracity of a message, just delete it.
Other best practices include:
Create unique, complex passwords. Use different passwords for different social media accounts and enable two-factor authentication or authenticator apps wherever possible. You might want to use a password manager. These measures will help prevent fraudsters from hacking your account and using it to commit scams in your name.
Conduct due diligence. Always look closely at social media products, deals, giveaways and investment opportunities touted in social media marketplaces and by influencers. Be particularly suspicious of offers that are "too good to be true" (they probably are) and those that require you to "act fast." Any legitimate offer can wait until you've had time to research it.
Confirm requests for help. Similarly, if a friend or family member suddenly contacts you via social media requesting immediate financial assistance, verify the individual's identity first. Make a phone call to a number you already have for the person or use a video conference.
Block suspicious accounts. Pay attention to errors in posts or messages on social media, particularly spelling and grammar mistakes. Many fraud rings originate abroad and fraudsters may not be familiar with English. If you encounter suspicious users or posts, block them and report them to the social media platform.
Using social media can be risky because it enables scammers to mingle with potential targets and gain their confidence. So listen to your instincts when visiting and interacting on social media, and always verify the authenticity of any requests.
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