It used to be so simple and quaint. You open your email and lo and behold there is an email from a Nigerian prince who needs your help dispersing his $30 million inheritance. Alternatively, you may have been contacted by the super helpful “Microsoft” engineer who wants to fix your computer, because it has a really bad virus. Oh how we miss the gentle ways of years gone by.
These days, with the explosion in social media platforms and millions of us using and interacting with them on an hourly/daily basis, scammers are much more sophisticated in how they approach you and steal your money. Facebook and two of the biggest social media apps which they own and operate, Instagram & WhatsApp, are hitting the headlines lately for all the wrong reasons, namely scams. So what are most common scams on these platforms and how do we protect ourselves ?
Since (Facebook) time began, scammers have been actively seeking ways of using the platform to scam you. These scams take many forms but some of the most common and frequent are the following.
Facebook charges. A common scam is a message appearing in your thread that Facebook will start charging soon for their service. If you don’t pay up, then your account will be deleted. Helpfully, it also proves a handy link to the website where you can pay using your credit card details and equally handy for the scammers, access to your money.
The Fake Personality Ad. Last year, British money expert Martin Lewis threatened to sue Facebook over fake ads purporting to be from him and duping people into entering their credit card details on fake sites for non existent financial advice. He’s not alone, many fellow personalities and large news organisations are also being faked with scammers offering get rich schemes via reputable looking websites.
The SOS message from a Friend. This is a relatively common scam but surprisingly effective. A message appears from someone on your friends list saying they are in some kind of trouble abroad and need you to wire them some money urgently. What happens next is fairly obvious, but let’s just say you will be wondering why your next credit card bill has gone through the roof.
Hang on, isn’t Instagram mostly a platform for people to post fabulous pictures of themselves in (mostly) imaginary poses, alluding to an equally imagined and fake life ? Or for “Influencers” to advertise products that will make you as fabulous and beautiful as them? Yes, it’s all that, although in fairness it’s also a bit of fun and harmless in a superficial way. However, lately it’s also a magnet for scammers. Here’s some of the most common scams doing the rounds at the moment.
Money Flipping. Here you get a message from an unknown person promising a get rich scheme or investment advice with guaranteed returns. These scams prey on people’s trust by posing as legitimate bankers who can divulge their “top secrets” for a small fee. Other scammers ask for a fee upfront with a guaranteed return within 24 hours. It eventually leads to the scammer requesting additional money to release your “profits”, potentially turning a small loss into a bigger financial hit.
Free Trial Scam. Here a message appears in your thread with an offer for a “free trial” of a product with just the requirement to confirm a valid credit card number to verify your age or guarantee you access to the “limited” supply of free products. Usually this results in you being charged for shipment of your “free” product or worst, your credit card being used nefariously for much larger frauds.
Fake Ads scam. Wow, a genuine Rolex watch reduced from $10,000 to only $100 today, with only a limited supply of 10 watches. Of course you are going to buy it. The usual caveat applies. If it sound too good to be true, then it usually is. Which unfortunately will be true, when the plain package that arrives weeks later contains an obvious and really bad Rolex watch rip off.
Roughly 65 billion messages are sent each day amongst 1.5 billion active WhatsApp users. So it’s easy to see why scammers are targeting this app with increased virulence lately.
The “WhatsApp Gold” scam is where you receive a message purportedly from a friend that is warning about a video or link about updating to “WhatsApp Gold”. The scam is that the WhatsApp Gold message(which does not exist btw), is really a means to get you to follow the link provided and enter your personal & credit card details, with the obvious fraudulent follow-up.
Another scam is the spreading of misinformation via messages, essentially like the old fashioned chain emails of years gone by. It may not be financial fraud but it can lead to deadly consequences. In India recently, innocent people were being killed by mobs who were acting on malicious and incorrect information spread via WhatsApp.
So is it really Facebook’s fault?
Many will argue that because Facebook also own Instagram & WhatsApp, they should be held accountable when a scammer uses their platform or apps to perpetuate a crime.
Facebook will respond that it is proactively monitoring for these scams and removes and blocks them are soon as they are spotted. Their view would be they can’t be held accountable for the actions of others on their platform, be these actions nefarious or not. However, let’s get real for a moment. Facebook is a huge corporate organisation with billions of users globally and is the de facto social media platform with huge influence and control over our online and social media activity. With this influence and control comes a duty of care to it’s users to do all it can to help protect them from fraudsters and criminals. People place huge trust in Facebook when they upload so much personal information about themselves. It this trust is broken, be it Facebook’s direct fault or not, people will turn away in droves. Facebook presumably knows this and the need to do a lot more if they are to avoid the fate of earlier competitors such as MySpace or more recently Google+.
How do I help Protect Myself?
Unless you plan to turn off your computer, throw your phone away and go live in a cave in Donegal, you will need to get yourself clued up on how to avoid becoming a victim of these scams, even if you don’t even use any social media. Here are some good links to information on how to spot scams and protect yourself: