14 Facebook Scams You Need to Take Seriously
You might just use Facebook for watching funny cat videos, but crooks use it to steal your money and information.
Your friend just found out what ‘80s pop star is their spirit animal and now you can’t wait to find out either. Don’t let your curiosity get the better of you, though. Some Facebook quizzes will ask for access to your profile, and others will even go a step further by throwing certain questions into the quiz itself, says Adam Levin, founder of global identity protection and data risk services firm CyberScout and author of Swiped. “They’re purely to gather information because … they could be the answers to security questions,” he says. Only take quizzes on sites you know and trust, and create fake answers for password recovery questions so they’re hard to crack, says Levin. It might be easy enough for Facebook scams to figure out your mother’s maiden name, so leave an easy-to-remember lie instead.
Free iPad giveaway? Sign me up! But wait—before you click that sweepstakes link, ask yourself whether it seems real, says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of Identity Theft Resource Center. “Yes, there are legitimate sweepstakes and raffles and giveaways, but there’s usually an end goal there,” she says. Most companies are hoping the promise of a free iPad (or flight or jewelry) will entice you enough to, say, sign up for a newsletter or buy a product. Before you give any personal information to a company, weigh the chances of winning with what you’ll lose giving up personal information. Find out how to spot the 12 red flags that someone is spying on your computer.
The “new” old friend
Be skeptical if you receive a friend request from someone you could have sworn already had a Facebook page. Sure, some people like to clean house by ditching their old profiles, but other friend requests aren’t so innocent. Scammers will clone a person’s entire Facebook profile, creating a fake profile of a real person. From your “friend’s” page, the hacker could send a link for a get-rich-quick scheme or a cute quote. It’s the kind of thing you’d ignore from an anonymous e-mail message, but not from a loyal friend. “They’re banking on the fact that you will trust the message,” says Levin. The problem is, clicking that link could add malware to your computer. Before you accept a weird friend request, shoot over a text or call the person to confirm it’s not a fake account.
A friend’s strange request
Even if you haven’t received a new request, don’t immediately trust a message from a friend you can’t see face-to-face. Hackers can find a person’s password and break into their account, then message their friends. The person might claim to have lost their wallet in Europe and ask you to send money. It might sound obvious enough now that it’s a scam, but those messages could tap into your fear so you don’t think straight. If you’re wondering if your “friend” is who you think it is, get in touch on a platform other than Facebook. Ringtones sound different in America than in other countries, so you’ll be able to figure out if you’re friend is traveling, even if they don’t pick up the phone, says Levin. Still not sure? Again, get in touch off of Facebook to find out what’s going on. Even beyond your computer, these are the items in your home that could be spying on you.
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Whether you know the person who posted it or not, you might go into panic mode when someone leaves you a message warning, “OMG look what they’re saying about you” and click the link to find out what’s going on. “It’s really about engaging your curiosity and getting your curious nature to say, ‘I want to know,’” says Velasquez. But don’t click! A vague message (“Did you see this picture of you?” vs “LOL at your face eating cake at Sam’s party last weekend”) is suspect, and clicking it could load malware onto your computer, says Velasquez. Text your friend to confirm the link is real.
Liking a store or restaurant’s fan page—or even keeping an eye on the ads—can be a great way to stay in the loop when there’s a sale. (But if you don’t love them, find out how to turn off creepy Facebook ads.) If a post shows a promo code and it works, lucky you! You just saved some cash. But be skeptical if you need to give personal information or create an account to unlock the savings. In some Facebook scams, a site poses at a real store but is phishing information. “Open a new browser tab and Google it,” says Velasquez. “Go to the source and see what’s going on.” If there’s a genuine promotion, you can bet the store’s official site will let you know. Before you dive into your research, brush up on these 16 tricks for spotting a fake online review.
Particularly after a major tragedy, you’ll see plenty of ads and posts from charities offering to help the victims. While some of those fundraisers really will go to the people who need it, others could just be scammers preying on your caring spirit, says Levin. For one thing, clicking a link from those schemers could put malware on the computer. Worse? Your money won’t go to victims of the tragedy, but straight in the pocket of a crook. To keep your money safe, do a Google search of the site instead of clicking the Facebook post link, says Levin. Visit a site like Charity Navigator or GuideStar, which both rate nonprofits on how helpful they really are. Seek out a trusted charity instead of donating to the first you see advertised. Watch out for these scams that pop up after natural disasters.
It sounds like a great idea: Some stranger is setting up a “Secret Santa,” where you send one person a $10 gift, and three other people will send you one, too. But like those old snail mail lottery ticket chains, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back in these Facebook scams. If no one else follows through sending your gift, you might not get anything in return. “You just gave your home address to a stranger with a list of stuff you like,” says Velasquez. “Is the return really worth the investment?”
If a friend tags you and a handful of other friends in a public post, your first instinct might be to click the link, even if the video looks suspicious. After all, you trust your friend. But don’t be sure that it really was your friend who tagged you. A hacker got into their account and sends you to a site that asks you to download a Flash player update. You click the link … which immediately starts to download malware to your computer, leaving you vulnerable to identity and information theft. Beware of shortened links or sensational-sounding videos, which are red flags for spam posts, according to the Better Business Bureau. On another app, here’s how to recognize 10 Uber scams you should watch out for.
Be wary of friend requests from people you don’t know. Sometimes, the interactions start out innocently enough: The stranger on the other end is just looking for friends while on deployment and starts opening up, and the two of you swap personal stories. Pretty soon, you feel like “real” friends, and there even seems to be a romantic spark. So when they ask you for money, you jump at the chance to help this close friend. But the other person has been lying the whole time, working to gain your trust. Now that they have it, they’ll claim they need money for a made-up emergency that keeps snowballing and eventually wipes your bank account dry, according to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. Never accept friend requests from strangers, and don’t send money to anyone—whether you know them in person or not—without verifying the situation.