Our brains are hard-wired to believe. We take in information literally and then evaluate it against our knowledge to decide whether or not it is true. For a moment, no matter how brief, humans will believe anything that they are told. This belief is compounded if the source of the information is someone that we know, trust, or respect.
Consider the famous Nigerian Prince Scam, a simple, fraudulent e-mail that promises a future cash reward in exchange for a small advance payment. Of course, the scam is ridiculous but, according to historians a version of the scam has been used by con artists for over 200 years. Now, social media has opened up a whole new industry for cyber-criminals and while e-mail spam is decreasing in frequency, social media is ripe with scammers looking to make a quick buck.
Social Media Affiliate Programs
All scams have one thing in common, the goal is to make money and social media scams are no different. Most commonly, social media fraudsters monetize their efforts through participation in affiliate programs. These are incentive programs in which companies pay “affiliates” for driving traffic to their website. For instance, some unsuspecting person sees an ad for a free $1,000 gift card if they will only enter their e-mail address. When they enter their e-mail address and click submit, they have earned a referral fee for a criminal. They will never see the gift card because it never existed. It was only a ploy to get personal information.
Common Social Media Scams
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all other social media platforms have changed the way people interact socially and professionally. We crave likes, comments, and re-tweets like a pregnant woman craves pickles and ice cream. We are able to follow our best friends and favorite celebrities and interact with them on a daily basis. All of these benefits are noticed by scammers who use them to their advantage when designing their schemes.
Manual sharing plots are the most common and rely on social media users to spread. Usually, scammers will embed links to an affiliate site or malware inside of videos, pictures, or fake offers meant to entice people into unknowingly sharing the links with their friends. Fake offering scams are related and request social media users to join fake groups or events and share personal information in exchange for a free gift. Together, manual sharing and fake offering scams made up 93% of social media threats.
Another type of cyber-fraud, phishing is the collection of personal information for the purposes of moneymaking. In regards to social media, phishing links are almost always hidden behind a hook (pun intended) such as a shocking news story or outlandish celebrity scandal. Once a user clicks on the link, they will be taken to a phishing site where they will be asked to login before they can proceed. Criminals will take the login information and hack other accounts for which the user has the same password (Apple ID, Bank Accounts, E-mail, Cloud Storage, etc.)
How to Protect Yourself
Knowledge and preparation are the two most important defenses against social media scams. While on social media, watch out for sensationalized stories, wild celebrity news, and offers for free money. Instead of clicking on links within social media, search for the stories on reputable news sites to see if they are legitimate. Also, never fill out a form unless you are certain the transaction is secure. Cyber-criminals are very creative and can use just about any personal information against you to make money for themselves.
In terms of preparation, one of the best investments a social media user can make is an antivirus app that can recognize threats. Apps like Android Security Suite that offers 24/7 real-time protection provides the most comprehensive protection and download directly to your device. Good antimalware will scan and detect malicious websites, phishing sites, and viruses to protect your device and your personal information from falling into the wrong hands.