Let's start by stating the obvious: scams, fraud and identity theft are rampant. According to CNBC, for example:
"Some 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud last year, according to a new report from Javelin Strategy & Research. That's up 16 percent from 2015, and the highest figure recorded since the firm began tracking fraud instances in 2004."
According to Scamwatch, the top two delivery methods for scammers are phones and email. The third is social media sites. Social media scams are of many types, from fake friend requests to malicious links, hacked profiles and fake job offers. Here are 4 of the most common social media scams and hoaxes in 2017:
1. The Facebook Friend Impersonator Scam
If you've ever received a Facebook message from someone you haven't seen or heard from in a long time, and if you've responded without first checking to see if that person is actually your long-lost friend, you could fall victim to this scam. The scammer typically sends a friend message, telling you he's won money. He tells you that you're also a winner, but that you need to send money (usually for "shipping") before receiving your prize.
In addition to losing some money, you could also have your identity stolen with this scam. The scammer gets access to personal information from your Facebook account, then uses that information to steal your identify. Word to the wise: make sure whoever you communicate with on Facebook is who they claim to be.
2. The Twitter Cash Starter Kit
The Twitter Cash Starter Kit is another scam which promises money to unsuspecting victims. The scammer sends fraudulent promotional profiles which urge users to buy a so-called "starter kit" to get the cash.
The victim is required to pay a starter fee to get the money-making kit, and to enter their credit card information to send that money, which the scammers can now use to raid your bank account. This often means that you lose money, and that you could be subject to hefty overdraft fees and see your credit ruined.
3. LinkedIn "Job Offers"
In this scam, the scammer pretends to be a high-profile job recruiter. He offers victims a lucrative job, often one positioned as a work-from-home opportunity. To obtain the job, the victim is required to complete an extensive phone interview. The interview is the scammer's opportunity to obtain sensitive personal information from the victim. In some cases, they even "hire" the victim for a short period of time to add credibility to their scam.
What the scammer gets, of course, is the kind of personal data (like your social security number, date of birth and even financial information) he can then use to steal the victim's money and/or identity. They sometimes also demand additional money to cover supposed application and processing fees. To be safe, check out the companies for which these scammers ostensibly work to see if they're legitimate.
4. Instagram Too-Good-to-Be-True Deals
The scammer sends Instagram users direct messages in the form of ads for unbelievably great deals, then persuades them to pay using PayPal. Needless to say, the supposed advertiser has no such products to sell, but victims fall for the scam to avoid missing out on the deal. Often, the scammer will tell the victim to pay through PayPal's friends and family option—this because PayPal doesn't protect such payments, which means victims can't recoup their lost money.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
The best advice is to remember that, if something seems to good to be true, it usually is. That said, you can protect yourself from social media scams by following these common-sense guidelines:
- Make sure you know the sender: don't respond to messages from people you don't know, or open links from them
- Make sure they're who they say they are: if you do know the sender, make sure they're who they say they are—scammers often impersonate friends, or even family members, to get the information they want. To be safe, contact the person in some other way, perhaps by phone, to see if they're the one who sent the message.
- Slow things down: legitimate companies don't urge "immediate action." They give you time to consider a sales or job offer so you can make an informed decision. If someone tells you that you need to make an instant decision, take the time to check them out before providing personal information or access to your computer.