Cons and scams have been around since humans first learned how to communicate but, these days, as communication increases with technology, scams are evolving, increasing in magnitude and allowing con artists to work behind a veil.
Their latest mask? Facebook.
A Detroit Lakes resident nearly fell victim to a Facebook scam on Monday, when she received a friend request from her neighbor — which she thought odd, considering she was already Facebook friends with her neighbor.
After accepting the friend request, the “neighbor” began private messaging her to tell her she had won $100,000. All she needed to do was deposit a monetary advance into an account for the prize money to be delivered.
Realizing it was a scam, the woman then contacted her neighbor, and the two took the necessary measures, contacting friends and deleting accounts, to reconcile the situation.
The common cons
Social media “phishing” can take many forms.
“There are several, as far as phishing scams go, fake profiles designed to take personal info and/or links that steal Facebook login info,” says Jay Larson, a Cisco Systems Network Administration degree-certified area man who has extensively researched scammers and the new scam trends.
And it’s not just the elderly being targeted with these scams anymore.
“Social media scams are targeted for the younger generations and designed to hook them with offers they can’t refuse,” Larson says.
But no matter the target, generally, social media scammers are after two things: your login information so they can hack accounts, and any personal information (including bank and credit card numbers) to get money.
According to Larson, one of the easiest scams to fall for online is the giveaway.
“You’ll see everything from gift cards, tablets, phones, gaming systems (being given away),” Larson says.
But, of course, too good to be true, they are a ploy to gather personal information.
“They are by nature designed to get information about you,” Larson says, adding that the scammers may then turn around and sell that personal information.
These scams also sometimes embed codes in links, which steal login information once they are clicked on, thus allowing the scammers to hijack profiles and scam others using your account.
“As a general rule, it’s best to steer clear of these types of (giveaway) bait,” Larson says. “Companies don’t give away items of high value — and if it involves an Apple product, it’s almost always 100 percent fake.”
Another variation of this scam is when a person posts or private messages about “opened” or “damaged” boxes being sold at a discount or given away.
“Companies don’t (do) this ever. It’s not how it works,” Larson says.
The Facebook help center also outlines other common social media scams: romance scams, donation scams, inheritance scams and loan scams.
With romance scam, also sometimes referred to as “catfishing,” a scammer will lure someone into a romantic relationship in the hopes of getting money. These messages can either come from a stranger or someone who creates a fake profile using the photo of someone the victim may or may not recognize.
The scammer then takes their time, getting to know their victim and earning their trust and sympathy, eventually asking for money.
Lottery scams, the category the Detroit Lakes woman’s case would be classified under, are also very common on social media.
These involve a scammer using the profile of someone the victim knows and claiming the victim has won a certain amount of cash, which will be made available to them after the victim has paid a small advance.
A more public form of social media scamming is the loan scam, where a scammer will make posts offering loans at a low-interest rate or for a small advance fee — all simply ways for the scammer to get information or money.
Facebook users should also be wary of links claiming to show a user how many people or who views their profile, because, Larson says, they are often malicious links intended to gather login information from whoever clicks on them.
No matter what the situation, local law enforcement asks social media users to always be wary while online.
“If an offer is too good to be true, it probably is,” said Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander, adding that if someone believes someone is attempting to scam them, they should report the fraud to local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, or the consumer protection office.
Informing Facebook also isn’t a bad idea. Usually there are ways to flag fake profiles, and social media sites will then review and take down a page if they find it to be malicious.
To further protect yourself, the Facebook help center suggests watching for the following:
- People asking you for money who you don’t know in person.
- People asking you for advance fees in order to receive a loan, prize or other winnings.
- People asking you to move your conversation off Facebook, like to a separate email address.
- People claiming to be a friend or relative in an emergency.
- Poor spelling or grammatical mistakes in potentially malicious messages.
In many of these cases, safeguarding against social media scams is about being realistic and level-headed when a good offer seems to appear out of nowhere.