A healthy dose of skepticism
Facebook can be a wonderful place full of opportunities to learn new things, share the special moments in your life, and reconnect with old friends. While Facebook is a lighthearted site for sharing, liking, and commenting, it is also one of the most common places for scams and fraud on the Internet. Unfortunately, while you’re sharing your life with friends and family, you might be unintentionally sharing private information with those who wish to do you harm.
On the bright side, there are ways to protect yourself against the nefarious and sometimes quite believable scams. More and more scams are being exposed every day and each new scam is more clever and less detectable than the last. As a rule of thumb, remember to do your own research, never click on suspicious links, and distrust sites asking you to enter personal information.
Your friend just found out what ‘80s pop star is their spirit animal and now you can’t wait to find out either. Don’t let your curiosity get the better of you, though. Some Facebook quizzes will ask for access to your profile, and others will even go a step further by throwing certain questions into the quiz itself, says Adam Levin, founder of global identity protection and data risk services firm CyberScout and author of Swiped. “They’re purely to gather information because … they could be the answers to security questions,” he says. Only take quizzes on sites you know and trust, and create fake answers for password recovery questions so they’re hard to crack, says Levin. It might be easy enough for Facebook scams to figure out your mother’s maiden name, so leave an easy-to-remember lie instead.
Free iPad giveaway? Sign me up! But wait—before you click that sweepstakes link, ask yourself whether it seems real, says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of Identity Theft Resource Center. “Yes, there are legitimate sweepstakes and raffles and giveaways, but there’s usually an end goal there,” she says. Most companies are hoping the promise of a free iPad (or flight or jewelry) will entice you enough to, say, sign up for a newsletter or buy a product. Before you give any personal information to a company, weigh the chances of winning with what you’ll lose giving up personal information.
The “new” old friend
Be skeptical if you receive a friend request from someone you could have sworn already had a Facebook page. Sure, some people like to clean house by ditching their old profiles, but other friend requests aren’t so innocent. Scammers will clone a person’s entire Facebook profile, creating a fake profile of a real person. From your “friend’s” page, the hacker could send a link for a get-rich-quick scheme or a cute quote. It’s the kind of thing you’d ignore from an anonymous email message, but not from a loyal friend. “They’re banking on the fact that you will trust the message,” says Levin. The problem is, clicking that link could add malware to your computer. Before you accept a weird friend request, shoot over a text or call the person to confirm it’s not a fake account.
A friend’s strange request
Even if you haven’t received a new request, don’t immediately trust a message from a friend you can’t see face-to-face. Hackers can find a person’s password and break into their account, then message their friends. The person might claim to have lost their wallet in Europe and ask you to send money. It might sound obvious enough now that it’s a scam, but those messages could tap into your fear so you don’t think straight. If you’re wondering if your “friend” is who you think it is, get in touch on a platform other than Facebook. Ringtones sound different in America than in other countries, so you’ll be able to figure out if you’re friend is traveling, even if they don’t pick up the phone, says Levin. Still not sure? Again, get in touch off of Facebook to find out what’s going on.
Whether you know the person who posted it or not, you might go into panic mode when someone leaves you a message warning, “OMG look what they’re saying about you” and click the link to find out what’s going on. “It’s really about engaging your curiosity and getting your curious nature to say, ‘I want to know,’” says Velasquez. But don’t click! A vague message (“Did you see this picture of you?” vs “LOL at your face eating cake at Sam’s party last weekend”) is suspect, and clicking it could load malware onto your computer, says Velasquez. Text your friend to confirm the link is real.
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