For many of us, having a social media account is essential. It lets us keep in touch with family and friends, shows off our trips to the gym or holidays and even lets us create our own online personas of who we’d like to be seen as. Indeed, in our current society, to not have a social media account is considered to be suspicious and odd behaviour. Yet, is social media really that good for our well-being?
Not only do sites like Facebook become inundated with online trolls and catfish (people pretending to be others), they are also a breeding ground for scams that are aimed at bleeding us of our hard-earned cash. But, on a site where we’re encouraged to share every little detail of our personal lives, how do you protect yourself from the scammers?
The most common Facebook scams
The main problem with Facebook scams is that they spread like wildfire. All it takes is for one person to fall victim and then things like viruses can make their way through their friends’ lists, their friends of friends list and so on. One of the best ways to protect yourself from scams is to learn about the most common ones out there, as the more you know, the less likely you will be to fall victim.
One of the most common ways that people end up losing money or belongings over, isn’t actually a Facebook virus. Rather, it is when we fall victim to over-sharing on social media, alerting burglars to our habits and daily routines.
Every time we post about a new work schedule, upcoming dinner date or even check into an airport, we could be making our homes vulnerable to thieves. Even posting the route you took on your run or bike ride can reveal your daily habits and allow burglars to recognise when your home might be empty.
Burglaries are mostly committed during the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., not the night that many of us believe. So, by putting up your class schedule, sharing regular gym updates at the same time of morning every day or posting that you’re dreading that 8 a.m. Sunday shift, can all be potentially putting your home in danger.
Yet, that doesn’t mean burglars won’t target you at night. As well as hinting at when your home might be empty, we are also incredibly bad for advertising the goods we have on offer. Whether it be Christmas trees bursting with presents underneath or posting photographs of your brand-new gadgets or cars, burglars can see exactly what’s on offer at your home when we over-share publicly.
Worse still, if you’re not keeping your photos and schedule private, you’re unlikely to be keeping things like your email, phone number and other leading information, private either. This can allow burglars to use the internet to find your address easily.
Who’s viewed your profile
Perhaps one of the most common Facebook scams on the market, most of us at one point have seen an app that claims it can tell you who’s been spying on your profile. However, this is not the case, there are no apps that can tell you who’s eyeing you up, so never believe it.
What these apps will do, though, will get you to authorise the app to access your profile. This can include your name, phone number, email and much more distinguishing information about ourselves. It will also allow the scammers to access your friend list, where it can message links that contain viruses.
It can also sell your information to advertising firms or, more worryingly, these apps can contain malware that may gain access to your credit card information.
These scams are also popular over social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, again, they will try to gain access to your profile, so keep your eyes open.
If you have let one of these apps access your profile, you can still undo some of the damage by revoking access to the app in your Facebook settings.
Account phishing can also be through email. Here scammers will replicate the email format of Facebook. In the email, you will be given a link, where it will look like you have a notification of a friend request, message, photo tag etc.
Once you click the link, you will be taken to a site that looks like Facebook and be asked to log in. However, this is actually how the scammers will receive your login details and use them to access your profile, its information and your friends. From here, the scammers can then ask your friends for money or discover further information about yourself for use in identity fraud.
This kind of scam can also lead to people impersonating you online. Once they have your profile and information, they can use these to either post incriminating or devastating information on your own page or set up new pages on other platforms.
If you see a contest on Facebook that appears to be too good to be true then, in all likelihood, it is!
Facebook is full of competitions and contests, some of which are legitimate. Others though, are far from it and are merely means for scammers to steal your personal information.
First off, if you see a competition on Facebook and the prize is incredible – such as large sums of money, a new car or spectacular holidays – then it’s likely that these competitions are bogus. These are most commonly made to look like large companies, like Ford or Apple, giving away products to those who like and share a post. However, if you take the time to click on the page’s name, you’ll see that these pages have no previous posts and have a low number of likes. This shows that the page is not the real Ford or Apple’s Facebook business page.
Some of these scammed competitions will direct you to a separate URL where you can enter either a survey or information about yourself. Again, these are just looking to get information about yourself. Take note of the URL, if it not the exact official website of the business that is claiming to give the prize, then it is likely a scam.
Similar to the idea of burglary, a Facebook scam need not involve a virus. Another common way for scammers to extort money from social media users is through the idea of a romantic scam. Here people will often create either a profile using fake photographs, name and even location in order to add and chat with others.
Most of us know romantic scams to be the idea of middle-aged, divorced women being contacted by fake profiles of men. These profiles, often from a man in another country, will take the time to chat and build relationships with their victims. They may also move to phone calls and texting. The scam tends to come into play when the scammer/catfish will tell of money troubles or wanting to meet, but being unable to afford flights. The victim will often send money or buy gifts for the scammer.
These types of scams aren’t exclusive to a certain age or demographic though, more recently these scammers have been looking at the younger generations. Here scammers will use the photographs of young, beautiful people and, again, build relationships by adding and messaging people on Facebook. The victims here are often encouraged to send naked photos to the catfish, who they believe to be having a relationship with. The scammers will then threaten to send these images/videos to the victim’s friends or family if money isn’t sent to stop them.
How to protect yourself from Facebook scams
Protecting yourself from Facebook scams can be as simple as having a large dose of common sense.
First off, keep your profile as private as possible, this means sharing photographs and statuses only with your friends. Keep your email and phone number private and you could even consider a nickname rather than your real name. This way scammers won’t automatically be able to gather distinguishing personal information about you, nor will thieves know what you’re up to.
Be wary of anyone who adds you on Facebook, if you don’t know who they are or you’ve no mutual friends, then consider denying the request. Also, keep your friend list simple, if you have 600-odd friends, do you really know them all that well? Instead, keep your list trimmed to only those you regularly talk to. The fewer friends you have, the less likely you’ll be subjected to a virus.
You should also avoid clicking on any links you get sent on messenger if it looks weird, as this is the quickest way for viruses to spread through Facebook.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
What you ultimately do if you fall victim to a Facebook scam will depend on the circumstances, but in all cases the quicker you work to remedy the damage the better.
If you think you’ve allowed an app access to your information or allowed someone to hijack your account, then the first thing you should do is change your password. Otherwise, you might find the scammers do it first!
You can see if someone has been accessing your account in Facebook settings, where a list of the devices and locations Facebook logins are available. If you see anything that is not yourself, then you can revoke that access. For extra safety, you can choose to ‘log out of all sessions’, this will kick anyone untoward out.
Once you’ve changed your password you can, for more security, set up something called ‘two-factor authentication’. This means that when you login into Facebook, you will also need to enter a code that will be sent separately to you in a text message.
If you believe you are talking to someone who might be trying to scam you, by asking you for money or photos, then simply delete them. If they are a ‘real’ person, their profile will be full of tagged photographs with friends, they will have other social media accounts and they will be happy to video chat. If your gut is telling you that something isn’t right, then listen to it.
Unfortunately, for many of us, we are already being scammed before we realise. If it’s a virus, let your friends know not to click any links, change your password and revoke access to any apps you’ve added.
If money or blackmail is involved, you should contact the police. Yes, it might be embarrassing but the police are your best way of stopping the scammer. Sadly, getting your money back is very rare, but it is impossible. You can also advise your friends to delete your profile as a friend, as this will stop scammers contacting them.
How to report a Facebook scam
Facebook are putting more and more of their resources into spotting and stopping scammers who use their social media platform. Unfortunately, somewhat like weeds, as soon as one phishing app is shut down or a hacker banned, they can simply create a new app or profile.
To help Facebook – and more importantly your friends and family – if you suspect a page or profile to be a scam then you should report it immediately. This can be done as follows:
- A suspicious message or post can be reported immediately using the Facebook reporting system. Simply click the three little dots at the top righthand corner of a post, then ‘Give Feedback on This Post’ and then select the ‘Spam’ option.
- If you receive a suspicious email from Facebook – or someone impersonating the site – you can forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org to be investigated.
- If you believe someone to be a scammer or that they are sending you strange messages, you can block, report, ignore or delete those messages.
- You can also report suspicious messages to Facebook too.
Most importantly, you should teach your friends and family about scams. If you see them sharing bogus competitions, strange messages from apps or adding weird looking accounts, then let them know the warning signs of Facebook scams.