Social media platforms are crawling with scammers because it’s such a low-cost way to reach billions of people worldwide. Don’t forget that scammers actually operate small businesses just like millions of other ordinary small businesses. They use the same social media marketing tools that legitimate companies use.
It’s not hard to create a convincing fake profile or take over someone’s legitimate account. With a little effort and social engineering, scammers can easily reach hundreds of people within a few days and build a large network of friends or followers. Most innocent followers won’t ever realize they’ve become part of a scam network on social media.
What privacy and security measures can ordinary people take to protect themselves from social engineering crimes, and can tools like an antivirus or VPN router help?
Scammers operate on every social media platform
Social media scams are highly profitable, with over $770 million stolen in 2021 in the US alone. Scammers pull it off by befriending innocent people in trusted virtual communities and using commercial marketing tools available to advertisers on social media platforms.
Most scammers have a presence on multiple social media platforms, but like any other successful business, they often focus on those platforms that work best to reach their intended victims. Social media platforms provide fast, cheap ways for advertisers to target specific audiences based on personal details such as age, interests, or past purchases.
What are the common methods criminals use on social media?
They often employ skilled freelancers or in-house marketers who handle their social media accounts and produce convincing marketing materials:
- Videos: Short videos have become one of the world’s favorite media formats, and scammers have a massive presence on TikTok and YouTube. Some TikTok scammers even steal videos from influential accounts and just edit the content to mislead people and send them to fake or dangerous websites.
- Images and other visual content: They employ professionals to sometimes, unwittingly, produce beautiful adverts to showcase their special offers, fake services, or products.
- Infographics: Businesses use infographics to explain complex information in a visually appealing format. But scammers can abuse this popular format to mislead people.
- Blog posts: They use fake reviews or even real, valuable content to entice people to click on their links.
- Shortened or Hidden URLs: Shortened URLs can easily hide the true destination of a link. Google the company website from behind the protection of your VPN or antivirus link-checker before you click on a link. If it is a legitimate offer, it will be on the website.
The things scammers do to look legitimate on social media platforms
Bogus celebrity profiles and imitations of well-known brands can snare innocent people in scams, so it’s a good idea to take a peek at the profiles of people who post those fantastic deals and not-to-missed opportunities:
- Fake verification marks: Users can pay a monthly fee to buy a verification on several different platforms, for example, Twitter, to make their profile more credible.
- Fake followers: You can buy followers to create instant authority, so always look closely at people’s followers. Do they stand up to closer scrutiny? They may be a part of a “batch” of fake profiles linked together in a scammer’s mesh that helps each other amplify scam messages.
- Account age: If it is a new account, be skeptical. However, keep in mind that fraudsters continuously create new fake accounts to sell or use in the future, so it’s possible that even a 5-year-old account could be bogus.
- Fake or stolen profile pics: AI can create flawless composites of human faces, so whenever you get besieged by a rush of impossibly beautiful people, dig a little deeper. Scammers also sometimes steal profile photos of real people.
- Careless mistakes: In the age of AI, fake profiles will become much harder to spot, but skepticism is a good thing on the internet, so give it a go anyway! Are there obvious spelling or grammar errors? Can you spot forced or unnatural language that may be the result of automatic translation tools? Perhaps something doesn’t “feel right”?
What are the most common types of social media scams?
- Online shopping: We’re so used to clicking to shop that it has become one of the scammers’ favorite tricks. They produce hard-to-resist posts with special offers, sometimes using the logos of legitimate companies. Use a VPN with a link-checker to help identify bogus links.
- Fantastic deals: Travel scams are good examples where scammers advertise offers that are just too good to miss. But clicking on their links leads you to a fraudulent or spoofed website where they can capture your credit card details and steal your money.
- Phishing messages: They can embed malicious links in direct messages or posts. Clicking on such a link could trigger a malware download.
- App downloads: Your smartphone can be turned against you, and there are thousands of fake and malicious apps in Google and Apple’s app stores. They can’t guarantee your safety, so do some background research before you click on a download link for a cool new app.
- Social engineering honeypots: Free personality quizzes and games are very popular, and criminals use them to get your personal information. They can use that insider info to launch a targeted phishing attack.
- Fake job offers: Don’t complete job offer forms on social media without background-checking the company. They can easily sucker desperate people into divulging sensitive information and use it to steal your money or identity.
- Easy options for complex industries: Bitcoin or investment schemes are good examples of scammers promising people easy, risk-free automated trading tools and high returns.
- Fake charity pleas: Scammers quickly pick up news about wars, natural disasters, or other newsworthy events and twist it into heartbreaking appeals for donations to victims of crime, violence, or life-threatening disease.
- Romance scammers: Scammers are skilled in exploiting people’s emotions to steal people’s money or get their sensitive information.
How can you protect yourself from social media scams?
If you use social media, it’s almost impossible to avoid running into scammers. The options are to stop using social media altogether or to protect your privacy to prevent hucksters from using your private information against you. Be cautious while you navigate the internet. Also, use the best security tools you can find to protect you against hackers and scammers, so be sure to use an antivirus and VPN.