Beat The Scammers
Most people like to think they wouldn’t be caught out by an online scam – but cyber-criminals are using increasingly sophisticated means to get social media users to hand over their details. Sites like Facebook and Instagram have billions of users worldwide and inevitably attract the scammers, whose presence has made many people nervous about going online. But by understanding how they work and being protective of your information, you can avoid being tricked.
Social media scams are carefully crafted by cyber-criminals who want to gain access to your personal information for their own benefit. Among other things, they’re interested in bank details, and they’re good at what they do, concocting ever-more convincing reasons for users to transfer money, hand over PINs or divulge personal information. They create links, emails and websites complete with official brand logos, terms and conditions and online forms that are so close to the real thing that it’s easy to be hoodwinked into handing over the data they want. Often, they’ll have already gained snippets of information about you and will send links or emails that appear to be from your bank, the tax office or companies with whom you have an online relationship.
They won’t just pick on you, however. Quite often, if they’ve secured access to, say, your email, they’ll run through your contacts list and target another batch of people. The same goes for social media platforms. It’s unpleasant, dispiriting and can result in financial losses. If you’re aware of what to look out for, however, you can protect yourself and others.
Here are a few common scams from 2019:
Hijacking the profile
A common social media scam involves setting up a profile similar to yours by using photos and details that are online (a trawl through low privacy-setting social media accounts and professional sites can reveal a lot). They’ll then try to use your identity to trick others by sending links or asking them for money. Other crooks just break into profiles to scam their contacts by pretending they are them. A recent fraudulent scheme saw cyber-criminals hijacking people’s accounts and then sending a ‘help me, I’ve lost my purse on holiday and
desperately need money to get home’ message to everyone in their contacts list. Needless to say, the scam changes as users cotton on to what’s happening – con artists are always looking for new ways to dupe people.
This is where a cyber-criminal creates a fake online profile to establish a relationship with someone as a means to get their money or other benefits. It can happen on Facebook but often it’s on dating sites and apps where the ‘catfisher’ searches for vulnerable prey. They then build what appears to be a trusting relationship with the person before manipulating them into transferring money or disclosing enough personal information for other fraudulent activity.
You’ve won a prize!
Cyber-criminals are experts at duping people into believing they’ve won a prize – and unless you’re aware of the scams, it can be easy to believe them or click on the link to check out your reward. Unsuspecting ‘winners’ often hand over their bank details thinking money will be transferred to their account, or are told they must purchase an item to get access to their winnings… only later do they realise they’ve been played. Many people love the idea of a freebie or a discount, but it’s wise to know that shared links offering vouchers for well-known retailers have also been linked to scams.
How to avoid being scammed
Check the address
If you are contacted by your bank or a company with which you have (or had) genuine transactions, always check the email address or Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of the link to which you’re being directed. You can do this by copying and pasting the link into a search engine on the internet. Check it matches the URL of the actual website. If in doubt, call your bank to ask if it’s aware of this email and the alleged urgent need for you to supply information. An address that doesn’t match the contact site is a clear giveaway of a scam.
Consider – is it too good to be true?
As the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re offered anything for free, whether it’s prizes, refunds or vouchers, run an internet search on the offer before pressing the link or giving details. These scams will ask you to pay a fee first for things such as ‘insurance’ or postage and then request you to send your bank details so they can transfer the winnings – only to take your hard-earned cash. Remember, you can’t win a prize unless you’ve entered a competition.
Don’t divulge personal details
It pays to be wary of social media quizzes and things like voucher deals, and never divulge any details, especially bank information. As previously mentioned, if in doubt run a search to see if an offer you are being sold is mentioned on a retailer’s site or if someone has commented somewhere on it being a scam. Also, remember that your bank will never ask for your PIN or any online banking passwords over the phone, via email or on an app; never ask you to email or text personal or banking information; never send an email or message with a link to a page which asks you to enter your online banking log-in details; and never offer banking services through any mobile apps other than the bank’s official ones.
False friend requests
Never respond to an online request to transfer money to someone else’s account, even if the message appears to be from a friend. Be wary of a new friend request from someone with whom you feel sure you already have an online relationship. Don’t be tempted to click on links from friends, especially ones with whom you have only minimal contact. If in doubt, phone the person and ask if it’s really them or whether their profile has been hacked. Likewise, if a friend is suddenly posting links to rewards or sites, call them to see if they’re aware of the posts. It’s possible that they’ve unwittingly clicked on a link and may have been scammed themselves.
Set your social accounts to a high security and privacy setting
Ensure your accounts are secure with strong passwords and check your privacy settings. Most social media platforms allow you to control who sees your information and any posts that you upload. Also, always consider friend requests carefully – do you actually know this person? Are you happy for all the people you are friends with to see the information you post? And do you know if they’re also likely to have chosen to restrict who sees their posts? Remember, your profile might be private, but a photo of you might be posted by a friend whose account is public. Always be careful who you allow into your social media world.
What to do if you've been scammed
It’s normal to feel angry and frustrated if you’ve been played, but there’s no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. The more people you tell, the more people will be aware of the scam. Cybercriminals are clever and ruthless and everyone is vulnerable to their devious ploys, which change by the day. Social media companies are becoming more adept at spotting cyber-crime but some fraudulent activity will still get through.
If you are scammed, take these steps:
If you realise someone has taken your profile or duped you, contact the relevant site. If it was identity theft or hacking, the company can then block the user and take steps to make sure your social media account becomes yours again and is secure. If money or account details have been taken, or you fear the hackers have your information, contact your bank immediately to let them know and they will advise you how to proceed.
Change other passwords
Check your other accounts, especially if you use the same password across several sites, to see if they have also been compromised. Changing passwords will help with peace of mind and is also a sensible way to protect your accounts. It’s also worth changing passwords on a regular basis.
Ensure you notify friends and family that your profile or account has been hacked. In this way, they can delete any posts, updates or requests that come from the cyber-criminal posing as you. The more people who speak up about hackers and scams and encourage others to be on their guard, the more difficult it will be for the criminals to find unsuspecting prey.
Words by Donna Findlay
Illustration by Rose Wong