With nine out of ten of us using social media, we are just one step away from encountering criminals.
But scammers are using increasingly clever techniques to hide their motives and appear genuine, using fake brand logos, terms and conditions, and links from fake websites to lure you in.
They usually use links for you to enter your details. But clicking on these can send your personal information to third parties and occasionally share the post with your friends and family, according to consumer group Which?.
Friends and family may fall for the scam because they are likely to see the message and take it as an endorsement.
Here are five ways to spot scams and beat the scammers…
Scheming: Scammers take advantage of their victims’ financial vulnerabilities and try to manipulate their needs
1. Too good to be true
Scammers take advantage of financial vulnerabilities and try to manipulate your desire to solve problems you may have.
They will usually make an attractive offer that is too good to be true, for example selling products at a deep discount or an investment that pays a ‘guaranteed’ high return.
The first thing you should do is a quick search for the online promotion, it says Which one? If the company or brand is promoting an offer on social media, it is likely that they are also promoting it on the home page of their legitimate website.
This goes for all types of scams, says Nicola Harding of the We Fight Fraud scam awareness task force.
Dr Harding, who is also a professor of criminology at Lancaster University, says: “Whether you’re shopping for clothes or a console on social media, these things aren’t easy, so if the offer seems too good, you probably be it”.
2. A link is sent to you
Be on the lookout for bogus links and inspect any you are unsure of before clicking on them.
Fake links may contain malware that allows the scammer to gain access to a Facebook user’s login details and personal information.
Users who click on the scam can, in some circumstances, be locked out of their account, and the hacker can take control and can then send the same message to people on their friends list.
In many cases, you may never realize the link was fraudulent, says Dr. Harding. ‘You may receive an email from Facebook warning you that there has been a new login from an unrecognized address, never click any links.
“Go directly to the app and check your security from there,” he explains.
‘If you click on a link in an email and it turns out to be fraudulent, you’ll likely be taken to a page that looks like Facebook’s login website, asking you to enter your email and password. Then it will redirect you to the genuine Facebook home page.
Red light: Facebook Marketplace scammers often make an offer that is too good to be true: they offer products at a deep discount
“It’s very easy for them to set up a website that looks like the Facebook login page, but at that point they captured your details, including your password.”
The scammers can then steal any personal information linked to the Facebook account, including email addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth, which can be used to log into any of your non-Facebook accounts.
With this information, criminals can take credit in your name or change your address with the DVLA, apply for a driver’s license and use it to commit identity fraud, Dr. Harding says.
More importantly, if the account has bank details or financial information linked to it, hackers can also steal a user’s money.
Do not click on any links in the messages that seem suspicious. Scam websites often use a domain name that references a well-known brand or product name to appear legitimate.
Look for a lock next to a website URL. This means that the site is encrypted, so anything you do on it, such as browsing or making payments, cannot be intercepted. Most websites now have this feature, so if a site doesn’t have one, it could be a red flag.
However, scammers can fake or buy these locks, so seeing one doesn’t always mean a website is secure. Which? warns
3. The brand looks fake
Scammers use sophisticated tricks to impersonate genuine companies. Check the post for branding inconsistencies and look closely to see if they are using the correct logo or if the presentation meets the usual corporate standard.
If it’s a brand you’ve never heard of, go to their profile page and take a look at how they present themselves, which one? advises Does it look professional or unkempt? Read the reviews for peace of mind.
Unauthorized websites: Be on the lookout for bogus links and inspect any you are unsure of before clicking on them.
4. Post keeps showing up
If you see a recurring post shared by multiple friends on your timeline, this may be a red flag.
Your friends may not realize that they have shared a fraudulent link or ad. Send your friend or family member a private message asking if they posted the status.
Trust your instincts and remain suspicious. It’s better to miss out on an offer than to reveal your personal details to scammers.
‘If you are buying something on an online marketplace, think about whether you know this person in real life. If so, call to verify that it is them. If they don’t, you can suggest leaving the money at home.
5. Bank transfer request
If you’re asked to pay for something online using a bank transfer, don’t do it unless you know the seller personally.
If you buy an item that turns out to be counterfeit or non-existent with a credit or debit card, you have some rights to get your money back. But if you pay by bank transfer, there is very little you can do to get your cash back.
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