How to Spot and Avoid Facebook Scams
Nancy Patterson - October 16, 2019
Before the days of Facebook, chances are that you or someone you know has gotten a phone call from a person posing as someone you know and asking for money.
They say that they are a lost family member, or a company offering to reduce your credit card debt, or a sales rep saying that you won a free trip to the Bahamas … that is after you send some money their way to cover the processing fee.
Facebook scams aren’t much different.
Although they won’t be calling you on the phone, Facebook scammers use plenty of deception tactics that can easily snag your sensitive information if you aren’t careful. Scammers will reach out to you through fake or compromised accounts in an effort to get access to your money and personal info.
In a world where scams are becoming commonplace, it is more important than ever to be careful about your security on social media.
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How Scammers Can Get Your Information Via Facebook
There are two main ways that scammers may try to gain access to your information, and ultimately get their hands on your hard-earned money.
Fake Facebook Profiles
The first method that scammers use involves creating a fake Facebook profile and pretending to be other people.
Since many Facebook profiles contain personal information posted by the real user, these fake profiles can be easily mistaken for someone you know when they contain information such as that person’s job titles, personal interests, and mutual friends.
How to Spot a Fake Facebook Profile
- Before accepting a suspicious friend request, take a look around the profile to see how recently the account was created. If it was made yesterday, that’s probably a good sign that this profile is the work of a scammer.
- Check the grammar on their posts. Are there any sentences that don’t make sense, or words that are capitalized but shouldn’t be?
- Sometimes scammers will use stock photos for their profile pictures. A simple way to test and see where they got their photo is to save their profile picture to your desktop, then drag and drop it to Google Images. Google will return with an exact or similar match to the photo, along with the information associated with it.
Fake Facebook Ads
The second most common method used by scammers gets your attention via fake ads on Facebook. Clicking on these ads will take you to a scam website that could potentially download a malware virus onto your computer.
What is malware?
Malware is a type of computer software that is designed to damage or gain unauthorized access to an account, computer system, or network. In the case of Facebook scams, malware is most often used to gain access to personal information such as name and social security number, email, passwords, and banking information.
You may have malware on your computer if you notice it is running slower than usual, starts running programs that you don’t recognize, or if pop-up messages keep appearing on your screen that you can’t get rid of.
There a few different ways to get rid of a malware virus, so don’t give up if you discover that you already have one on your computer. Also, check to make sure that you have a good virus protection software, and that it is updated to the latest version.
Common scams on Facebook
Clickbait is a type of content intended to attract attention and encourage you to click its link to a particular webpage.
Facebook is a popular website for scammers to post clickbait. This can be as harmless as taking you to a website with a bunch of ads, or as dangerous as directly downloading malware which in turn can instantly hack your computer and gain access to your information.
A popular recent clickbait scam has been through hacking accounts on Facebook Messenger. You may get a message from one of your Facebook friends with the message, “It’s you?” with your name and an emoji following. When you click the link below the message, you will be taken to a malware site.
This is basically the clickbait scam with a different face. Malicious tagging begins when you are tagged in a post with a few of your other Facebook friends. Because other people that you know and trust have been tagged in the post as well, you might at first assume the link is safe.
The link opens a new window, often to a video, which asks you to download the latest version of Flash Player in order to watch. Clicking the link downloads a malware program which scans your system for your personal banking info.
Fake Profile Scams
This is the online version of a common telephone scam. Scammers will pretend to be someone with an already-existing account, stealing their name, pictures, and personal information. Then they will send friend requests to that person’s friends and family, telling them that an emergency has happened and that they need money.
Because most people naturally want to help their loved one, you will likely be willing to send money in a crisis. The fake profile looks real because of personal details such as your workplace, nicknames, and interests, making it hard to recognize it as a scam at first sight.
Much like the fake profile scams, lottery scams impersonate someone you know or a page that you follow. They claim that you have won an online lottery and you can have your money shipped to you for a small upfront fee. They may ask for your banking information or personal address.
Another variation of these lottery scams are job scams, where scammers create a fake job posting that asks for your personal information or asks you to pay upfront.
These scammers reach out to you through a personal message or public post. For a small advanced fee, they will offer you an instant loan at a very low rate. They often impersonate government organizations in order to look more official.
Fake Ad Scams
Fake ads are posted by scammers to encourage you to purchase fake products online. Instead of sending you the purchased product, the scammers can steal your financial information or send a malware program to your computer to get it.
Scammers can also create fake ads that ask for your personal information and use it to steal your identity.
If you are the target of a romance scam, you may get a message from someone you don’t know who will tell you that they are stuck in an unhealthy relationship, going through a divorce, or recently widowed. They will try to tell you that they are lonely and looking for a new relationship and hoping to connect with you online.
The goal of romance scammers is to create a relationship with you over time and establish trust. They may pose as someone of authority to the public, and ask you for money or visas after the conversation has carried on for some weeks.
Another popular way that scammers try to get you is through the grants scam. Through Facebook Messenger, they will tell you that you have been approved for the Facebook Government Grant or another similar business grant.
Similar to loan and lottery scams, you will be asked to pay a small fee upfront before receiving your grant. They may also ask you to text a specific number so they can have access to your phone number.
In any case, know this: the government will never reach out to you on social media, and they will never ask you to pay before receiving a grant.
The Copy and Paste Scam
Although this has been proven not to be a real scam, it certainly has startled many a Facebook user. It is a forwarded message saying that Facebook is changing their privacy policies and that your personal information will soon be made public.
This story is false, of course, but many people believed that copying the pasting the message would make their systems vulnerable to malware.
This simply isn’t true. Pasting a message on your profile does not make it any easier for hackers to access your info.
How To Protect Yourself From Facebook scams
- Only accept friend requests from people you are sure that you know.
- Watch out for people asking for money, especially if you don’t know them.
- Avoid anyone asking you for an advance fee to receive your loan or prize winnings.
- Be wary of posts or messages with poor grammar or spelling. This is a good indicator that it might be a scam.
- Be wary of anyone asking you to move the conversation away from Facebook to another messaging service.
- If in doubt, don’t click. Especially if you can’t tell the destination link without clicking.
- Don’t post any of your private or sensitive information on Facebook or other social media.
- Set the privacy settings on your profile to high, so that your information will be invisible to anyone who is not your friend on Facebook.
- If you spot something fishy, you can report it to the Facebook team by clicking here.
- And as always, be smart. Don’t post any information on Facebook that you wouldn’t want a stranger to be able to see.
How to Easily Identify a Facebook Scam
A major strategy of scammers is to copy and paste their scam messages and send them to thousands of users, in order to up their chances of getting a bite.
Many people who have fallen victim to these types of scams often will post their stories online, either in an effort to find someone who can help get their information back or to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
One easy way to identify a message as a scam is to copy and paste it into a Google search and see if anything similar comes up.
More ways to keep your account secure
In addition to keeping an eye out for shady accounts, pages, and ads on Facebook, it’s also important to take precautions to make sure that your personal account stays secure. Here are some tips to keep scammers from hacking your account:
- Use a password for Facebook that is different from any of your other online accounts.
- Avoid using words and numbers that are associated with you, such as phone numbers or special dates.
- Use words that would be easy for you to remember but hard for other people to guess.
- Include both upper and lower case letters.
- Try to create a password that is relatively long, as this will usually make it more secure.
Keep your login info to yourself
- Never share your Facebook username and password with others.
- Always look at the URL before logging into a website. If it isn’t facebook.com, it may be a web page designed by scammers to get your information.
- Don’t send emails from Facebook to others, as they may contain some of your accounts
Always log out of your Facebook account on public devices
- If you forget to log out before leaving a public computer or device, you can still log out remotely by following these directions from Facebook Help Center.
Steer clear of suspicious links
- Keep in mind that scam links can be on posts from your friends and family.
- Never click a link in a Facebook email asking for your email and password.
Turn on security alerts
- Facebook offers extra security options, which include notifications of logins on other devices, two-factor authentication, and much, much more.
The information in this article is not intended to scare you, but rather to help you be aware of existing threats and to prevent you from falling victim to them.
Identifying and avoiding scams on Facebook ultimately comes down to common sense. Don’t click on any links that look shady, and don’t give out your personal information over social media, especially to entities claiming to be famous people or organizations.
If someone claiming to be a loved one contacts you requesting money, ask yourself whether they would be more likely to contact you over the phone or another form of contact. You can always use CheckPeople to run a background check on suspicious persons to see their work, education, and criminal history.
By using common sense on social media and putting a few simple security protocols in place, you can safely enjoy the connection with friends and family that Facebook provides.