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Social Media Scams: Common Social Media Scams & 4 Ways to Avoid Fraud



08 Dec 2020

People rely on social media to keep in touch with family and friends, meet people of like minds, start new romantic relationships, and shop. Social media is a huge part of the lives of millions of people, keeping us constantly connected. In 2020, the number of social media users worldwide  has hit 4 billion, with 2 million new users joining everyday. More than half of the world’s population is now using some form of social media on a monthly basis. 

The numbers continue to climb every day: YouTube and Facebook claim the most active users with over 2 billion accounts each. Instagram and WhatsApp claim over 1 billion monthly active users each, Twitter claims over 330 million users worldwide, and LinkedIn has over 700 million user accounts. 

With all of those users worldwide it provides a huge market for scammers, full of unsuspecting targets. According to a recent report from ITWeb, "Social media incidents accounted for over 56% of the 4.5 billion data records compromised worldwide in the first half of 2018."

Trillions of are lost each year by people around the world, below are just a few of the social media scams targeting people and how you can avoid them.

Most Common Social Media Scams

Romance Scams & Catfishing

Nowadays one in five romantic relationships start online and it’s estimated that by 2040, 70% of connections will be built over social media. Considering that people are anonymous until they meet face-to-face, it’s no surprise that romance scammers love to bilk unsuspecting singles on social media sites and dating sites. 

The FTC reports that in 2019 people lost more than $200 million in romance scams (just in the U.S.), making romance scams more popular than any other consumer fraud.

Romance scams all begin with a fake profile. The romance scammer will often use the photo of a celebrity or some stock photo, in some cases a scammer may steal another person’s social media photos. When a scammer uses the photos of another person this is known as catfishing. 

The fake profile makes claims designed to attract someone looking for a romantic arrangement. Shortly after the scammer makes a connection, s/he will gain the trust of their target and then they will invent a sob story or emergency that requires some sort of financial assistance. 

The scammer requests money via a prepaid card, gift card, credit card, bank account, or wire transfer. Prepaid cards and wire transfers are preferred since the transaction cannot be traced. Victims rarely recover the funds and many do not report actual losses due to shame.

Stuck Abroad Scam, or the Grandparent Scam

The target receives an urgent message from a friend, family member, or new romantic interest. The message says that their loved one is stuck overseas, perhaps due to a lost passport or theft. This particular social media scam is often referred to as the grandparent scam. 

Why, you may ask, is it called the grandparent scam? This particular scam is referred to in this way due to the fact that it often targets elderly family members. Scammers will scan public social media accounts looking for individuals who are overseas, then they’ll look for their elderly relatives in your social network. 

Once the scammer finds a good target, they’ll reach out either by email or phone and claim to be you, stuck in a foreign country. The scammer convinces your worried relative to send a wire transfer, the money is then lost. 

Lottery, Gift Card and Free Giveaway Scams

Scam social media posts often feature ads from popular food and beverage stores offering free or discounted gift cards. You must fill out some persona and financial information to receive the offer, gift card, or to enter the lottery. In the end, there’s no offer or prize to be won,  the only thing you’ve gained is an experience with an identity thief.

Clickbait and Celebrity Gossip Scams

The public loves celebrities and gossip, so celebrity gossip is a sure win for a scammer on social media. Clickbait uses a person’s curiosity to click on an ad or story. Viral videos, juicy headlines, Coronavirus/COVID-19 news, and political intrigue thrive on social media and ensure that someone will click on the link. 

The link leads to pop-up that has malware, spyware, or a form designed to steal the user’s information. The clickbait always leads to scammy sites that let scam artists hack into your system and wreak havoc on your computer or mobile devices. 

Another common pop-up variation asks the user to download Adobe Flash Player in order to play a video. The pop-up doesn’t come from Adobe, a trusted software company. Instead, it’s a way for the fraudster to hack into the user’s computer or cell phone by getting them to download malware onto their device.

The "Is This You???" Scam

Another way scammers steal personal information is by using the “Is This You?” scam on social media. Via Facebook messenger or other private messages a user receives a message from someone that they recognize from their social network, the message includes a video or photo. The message also reads: “Is This You?”

The goal is to get the victim to panic and to click on the video or image. A pop-up appears, requiring the user to log in with a username and password or malware is downloaded directly to the victim’s device. Scammers will gain sensitive information like passwords and financial information.

Canceled or Compromised Account Scam

A typical “smishing” (SMS phishing) scheme that involves social media requires users to verify information, or the site will cancel the social media account. The account holder receives a text with instructions for verification. The user must respond to the text by sending login information to verify the account. This is 100% a scam and if you respond back to the text with your login information the scammer steals the information and other data taken from your social media account. 

Note that all legitimate social networks may ask you to login when opening their app,  but they will not send a text message or email asking for your login information.

IQ Test Scams

Everyone wants to feel smart, so taking an IQ test seems like an easy way to prove it. The IQ scam appears on many social media platforms, especially on Facebook. The user takes the test, and, in order to get the results, must sign up with an email address or phone number. The results come with a hidden agreement to sign up for a monthly plan that is charged to the phone number or other account.

Additionally, these IQ test sites will sell your contact information to other third parties.

Quiz & Survey Scams

In addition to the ubiquitous IQ tests on Facebook, you may have also noticed quizzes in your newsfeed that play on the boredom or curiosity of their users. Quizzes may ask, “Which celebrity do you resemble most?” “What kind of potato are you?” “Who were you in a past life?” or “Click here to predict your future.” 

Every time a user clicks on the link, a third-party developer can access your profile information. Many times, the third-party developers or marketing companies commit fraud by collecting and selling your profile information. You will also see a dramatic increase in ads from related companies and spam calls.

See Who Viewed Your Profile Scam

This scheme is prevalent on sites like LinkedIn and Instagram, where it can be important to make connections. This scheme gets a person to click on a link, where they are directed to a survey page or site capable of stealing personal data.

LinkedIn Premium comes with this service, any other service that promises to allow you to see who looked at your profile is false and most likely a scam.

Hidden and Shortened URLs

Social media sites often use URL shorteners. However, most malicious campaigns use the same type of hidden or short URLs to disguise their activity. While URL shorteners (like TinyURL) save space, they can easily make users think the link is valid. If you ever question the validity of a web address, find another way to get the information.

How Can You Avoid Getting Scammed on Social Media?

Getting scammed on social media can be annoying, embarrassing, and financially devastating. Aside from going dark, it’s nearly impossible to prevent a breach of information on any social media site. However, you can protect yourself by taking a few steps:

1. Limit Exposure

Limiting your exposure to social media and unknown websites can make a big difference in protecting your information and avoiding identity theft.

2. Protect Your Personal Information

Before you reveal any personal or financial information, ask yourself if you’d share it with the world. Unless you are 100% sure that the website is safe, don’t share credit card numbers, bank account information, or sensitive personal data like your Social Security or Medicare numbers.

3. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Most leading social media websites offer two-factor authentication. It involves linking the account to a phone number or email address so that the account can be verified. The site sends a verification code that must be put into the system to prove your identity when logging in. This is the best way to stop hackers from getting into your account.

4. Always Remain on Guard

Social media platforms aren’t the only sites that have issues with hacking or malicious behavior. However, it’s more likely that your social media account will be hacked or have your personal data compromised. To keep safe, remember to be suspicious of offers that seem too good to be true.

Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know or that may have fake profiles.

Don’t trust people with personal information that isn’t readily available to the public.

Don’t click on unknown or suspicious links. Don’t download unknown or suspicious apps (especially from Facebook or Instagram).

Take Precautions and Keep Your Information Safe

Taking simple precautions can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding social media scams. Educate yourself on the site’s security risks. Use the highest level of security on your settings. Also set privacy settings to the highest level. Do not fill in any more information than is necessary – leave your birth date, phone number, and address off public sites. Be sure that your security is updated on all devices to prevent hacks and phishing scams.

Additionally, be sure to take extra precautions if you use public Wi-Fi or an unsecured Wi-Fi network by using a VPN.

If your small business uses social networks or similar platforms, ensure the employees are properly trained and that appropriate cybersecurity measures are in place.

Reporting Social Media Scams

If you think you’ve been scammed on social media, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The website contains valuable information to educate consumers and links to the FTC Complaint Assistant. You should also report phone scams immediately to the social media network. Include as much information as possible, including the time and date of the call, name of the caller, company name, and any other details that seem important.

You can also download our iPhone phone number lookup app and leave your feedback along with the scam artist’s phone number. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still search for unknown phone numbers and leave your feedback by using our phone number tracer available on our site.

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