Whether you use social media to market your business or simply to keep in touch with friends and family, social networking scams are a prevalent danger across the Web. Sometimes pranksters do it for the sheer enjoyment of making you sweat, but more often than not, they do it to cause you real harm. Social networking scams come in all shapes and sizes, but after a lot of consideration, I’ve compiled a list of what I feel are the top five most common social networking scams on the Internet today.
1. Shortened URL phishing attacks: If you have a Twitter account, I bet there is at least one fake person following you right now — some super sexy man or woman with a clearly made-up name who posts random philosophical tweets about life and love or asks you to check out some porn site. Twitter is full of spam, which makes it a cesspool for social networking scams.
The easiest way for scammers to trick you into falling into their trap is by using shortened URL links. Before you follow any shortened URLs, be sure you know and trust the person tweeting the link. If you click on a shortened URL, and it brings you to a page that asks for your user name and password, be very weary. Check the URL and make sure the website is legit and not a site phishing for your info.
2. “Help me, I’m stranded — send me money!” scams: This type of networking scam comes in different variations. The most common version is the sweetheart swindle or online dating scam — where a scammer serenades a helpless victim into falling in love through a dating website and cons the victim into sending money. The sweetheart swindle con artist may ask for money to help them get home so they can meet you in person, for gifts for their loved ones back home, or to help with a sick child or relative. Either way, you’re not getting your money back.
Other versions of this social networking scam derive from the social media website Facebook. A scammer creates a phony profile pretending to be your best friend Billy, or even hacks Billy’s real Facebook account. “Billy” contacts you via Facebook message that says he’s stranded in a foreign country. He asks you to wire money to his bank account to help him get home, but in all actuality Billy’s sitting on his living room sofa watching TV and eating a sandwich and hasn’t left his house in days.
3. “OMG did you see this picture?” phishing attacks: Many people who have a Facebook account sign up for email notifications when someone has commented on their wall, status update, photos, or even when tagged in a new photo. Another way scammers try to phish for your personal info is by duplicating these emails and sending them to random victims in hopes that they fall for the ploy. These phishing emails say things such as “OMG did you see this picture someone posted of you?” When you click on the link, it asks you to sign into your Facebook account — but the URL isn’t for Facebook. It’s a phishing website!
This type of phishing attack is floating around Twitter too. I’ve seen numerous direct messages on my company’s Twitter account from random spam followers that say “Check out what someone is saying about you online!” The spammer always includes a shortened URL link in the email, but I’m too smart for them. Delete and report as spam.
4. “Upgrade your Flash player” phishing attacks: Have you ever gone to watch a video online and the Web page tells you that you need to upgrade your Flash player? While there is a chance you may need to upgrade your Adobe Flash player, there’s an even bigger chance that this is a social networking scam. When you click on the link to download the Flash player upgrade, what you’re actually downloading is a virus or malware that will infiltrate your computer. The virus or malware will search your computer for your user names, passwords, and any other personal information you may have stored on your computer, like credit card information or bank account information.
5. Not-So-Free Quiz Scams: Which Harry Potter character are you? How sexy is your name? What Pokémon are you? These are just a few of the quizzes you can take on Facebook. While most quizzes are free to take (as long as you grant the developer access to your Facebook account, of course), some pose as free and then slap you with a one-time-but-it’s-really-monthly fee for some outrageous amount of money like $25 per month.
I’ll admit it — I used to take Facebook quizzes to pass time in the wee hours of sleepless nights, so I won’t tell you to stop taking them altogether. However, I will advise you to read the fine print and never pay for a service as silly as a Facebook quiz.
There are several other types of social networking scams on the Internet. What types of social networking scams have you seen? How do you tell the difference between a scam and something real? Have you seen any social networking scams on newer social media sites like Pinterest and Google+? Share your thoughts and help us in the fight against scammers.
Author Bio: Meghan Faye Wolff is the senior copywriter and marketing specialist for Instabill Corporation. Instabill offers online payment processing solutions for offshore and high risk merchants around the world. Meghan blogs about leading e-commerce and payment industry news.