How to Spot a Facebook Scam and Prevent Fraud on Social Media
Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, financial fraud has been on the rise as scammers look to take advantage of how financially vulnerable many of us have become. The Federal Trade Commission has reported large spikes in phishing emails, phony websites, social media scams, and more over the past thirteen months. We’ve written extensively about fraud in the past, but this blog will focus on one type of scam that has become more and more common: the social media scam.
Most adults in the United States are now on at least one social media platform. What was once a niche area of the internet has become an integral part of most peoples’ days. The enormous reach of these platforms means scammers can now access a broader population than ever before. While the companies behind your favorite social media networks are hard at work to reduce scams, they cannot keep up with the sheer volume and cunning of some fraudsters. Here are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe.
Facebook is by far the largest social network with 1.84 billion daily active users across the world. Since scammers usually try to target the largest group of people possible to increase their likelihood of success, Facebook is where scams are most prevalent on social media. The most common type of scam involves a very similar strategy to phishing. A scammer will message their target through a fake Facebook profile, either posing as a friend or as a business, and request that the target click a link to share some personal information. Luckily, Facebook provides a number of tools and systems that are designed to help you and limit what fraudulent accounts can do.
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- Business pages are limited in their interactions and cannot submit friend requests through Facebook. Only personal profiles can submit friend requests. If an account that looks like a business sends you a friend request, you’re likely a target for a scam.
- While businesses on Facebook can reach out to the public through group invites or invitations to like a page, they cannot send you a direct message unless you have previously interacted with that business by commenting on a post or by messaging the page directly. Generally speaking, if you receive a Facebook message from someone you have not interacted with recently, it may be a scam.
- Two types of Facebook pages exist: verified and unverified pages. Some pages may have a blue checkmark to signify their legitimacy, but that tool is only given to a select few pages. For the vast majority of pages, you can check to see if Facebook has conducted a notarized identity confirmation process by finding the Page Transparency section of a Facebook Page. Because it can appear in different places depending on how you access the page, check out this support article on where to find Page Transparency.
- Messages and posts that ask you to click a link to provide personal information to collect a prize are most likely scams, especially if they are unsolicited. Most authentic giveaways only require an address and name to send you your winnings. Any person or page that asks you for a credit card number or Social Security number is almost certainly trying to scam you.
If you receive a message from a verified business or a page that you’ve interacted with before, you’re probably in the clear. However, in some rare cases a business or person may have had their account jeopardized by a scammer. If you’re nervous about this, you can always call a publicly listed phone number for the business and confirm with them that the message you have received is authentic. Never use the contact information provided by a business or person in their direct message if you have any suspicions that they could be a scammer.
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OTHER SOCIAL NETWORKS
We won’t have time in this blog to describe every single way that you can verify a social media account. There are simply too many and the technology changes all the time! That being said, there is some general advice that you can use to keep yourself safe on services like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
- Most social networks provide a blue checkmark to an extremely limited number of businesses and people. Unfortunately, the majority of legitimate businesses cannot receive this checkmark. Use other indicators to confirm a social media account is legitimate like spelling and grammar use, imagery, website links, and addresses. Most scammers will very closely copy a real business or person, but there is often something wrong with these accounts. A misspelling—like replacing an “m” with an “n”—is a common way for fraudsters to trick you into thinking the account is authentic. Think V5ECU versus VSECU!
- Use two-factor authentication wherever possible to avoid your account being stolen and used for nefarious purposes. Two-factor authentication uses a second method of authentication in addition to your password, like a code sent to your phone or generated through an app, which you can then enter in addition to your password. While these systems aren’t foolproof, they can help keep your accounts safer.
- Staying vigilant may be the best way to protect yourself online. Since scammers are usually looking for a quick buck, any obstacles that you put in their way will cause them to quickly move on to their next target. Most social media scams are based on the volume of potential targets, so any difficult targets are usually not worth the fraudster’s time. The simple steps in this blog make you much less vulnerable.
- Avoid wire transfers when possible, especially if someone is requesting that you wire money to claim a prize or correct an “overpayment” for a product they are claiming to send you.
- Never provide Social Security or banking information over social media. Most financial institutions offer some customer support via social media, but will redirect you to their contact center once your conversation gets beyond general questions and requires further authentication.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of this blog. Social media scams are unfortunately common and come in all shapes and sizes. Stay vigilant and know that just by reading this article, you’re already more prepared than most. Stay safe out there!
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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.
About Oliver Ames
Oliver is VSECU's social media strategist and spends most of his day engaging with members through our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. He has a background in science education, non-profit fundraising, business communication, media production, and membership-based organizations. When not at work, Oliver spends much of his time with his wife and their little dog Butterscotch at their home in Montpelier.