With more than 800 million users all over the world, Facebook is the perfect breeding ground for scam artists. Every Facebook user has their account interlinked with hundreds or even thousands of their friends. With the exponential amount of users connected to each other Facebook scams require only a few clicks to reach to colossal levels. The peril arises when a scam is spread through someone’s account using the friend list as a medium as this considerably lowers the unsuspecting users guard. So in effect, all it takes is one moment of weakness by one individual on your friend’s list to start off a chain of events that can prove harmful to one and all.
This phenomenon has been termed ‘Social Engineering’ since it involves predicting human behavior based on a study of common user habits and general psychological traits. Piquing a user’s curiosity with a sensational headline can cause one to fall prey to legitimate looking scams. Some scams take the user to a page that asks for their Facebook login credentials, some ask for personal details about the user which are then misused, some direct the user to install a program that is malware in disguise, some ask for money while some account for a lot of spam.
Common Types of Facebook Scams
The best defense against the real-time risks of Facebook scams is to simply be aware of the possible forms that these scams can take and the probable danger associated with them. An individual with a greater knowledge of such matters will always be better protected and more careful than an ignorant one. Additionally, if you have an effective antivirus suite like Quick Heal Internet Security 2012 functioning on your machine you can enjoy complete protection against various infections that may cause harm. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly seen Facebook scams.
- Profile Viewers and Blockers
Facebook DOES NOT provide details about the frequency and identity of people who have viewed your profile. Nor does it provide information about who has blocked you from viewing their profile. Any application or post that claims to divulge this information to you is untrustworthy and is potentially trying to harm you or gather sensitive information. Facebooks’s security policy states that “Users should have total control over their personal information and they should be able to access the information other users wish to share”. Needless to say, detailed information about profile visits and blocked friends is not included in this.
- Fake Celebrity Stories
Almost everyone loves reading about some juicy celebrity gossip, especially if it is about someone who has been in the news lately. Scam artists use this phenomenon to their advantage by posting fake links with eye-catching headlines that some people find hard to resist. The latest in a long line of such scams is the headline stating “OMG! I Can’t Believe That Miley Cyrus Can Do This!”. Coming up with such shocking and sensational headlines is a simple way to dupe users. Clicking on the link takes the user to a page that looks similar to a Facebook page and asks the user to share the link before the video plays. As expected, however the video never plays.
- Breaking News
Using shocking headlines to get people’s attention has long been a common trick of scam artists. Such headlines prompt unsuspecting users to click on malicious links that direct them to pages asking for personal details and other data. In most cases, clicking the link does not even take you to the page that is mentioned – which is a clear example of a fraudulent page. The latest in this line of Facebook scams is a link to a video that carries the message “Rollercoaster Accident in California”.
- 419 scam
Popularly known as the Nigerian scam, this term has been traced back to 1992 by the American Dialect Society. This is an ‘advance-fee fraud’ wherein the scam artist poses as a wealthy individual who is having trouble transferring funds to an overseas location. He then proceeds to ask you for your assistance and promises a large sum of money, a small part of his fortune, in exchange for your personal details and of course, some of your hard earned money. There are many variations of this scam, but unfortunately, there are many gullible people who end up falling for such tricks.
- Help, I’m stranded and Need Money
If you get a post from one of your friends stating that they’re in a foreign city and have been mugged or robbed or put through some other unpleasant event, you must treat the post with extreme caution. In most cases, the post requires you to transfer some money for assistance, but if you come across something like this you can be rest assured that your friend’s account and login details have been compromised. You must contact him/her and pass on this information as soon as possible.
- Free Gift Cards and Products
Everyone loves some freebies now and then, so some scam artists try to take advantage of this by offering free gift cards, coupons, Facebook credits and other valuable products. The most common being iPhone and iPad giveaways, especially upcoming models and there are many who fall prey to such temptations. Some scams come in the form of a post by a Facebook friend claiming they have won a new iPhone or iPad. A latest scam carries the title “Get a FREE pair of Toms Shoes (Limited Time Only)”. Clicking on the link takes you to a fraudulent page that asks you to ‘Share’ and ‘Like’ the page which is then spread to your friends.
- Fake Facebook Security Pages
Almost every Facebook user has genuine fears about their security and privacy being compromised. Some scam artists feed on this paranoia and create fake Facebook security pages or blogs and ask people to enter their login data. As a user you need to read the URL of such links very carefully and also be very careful about where you enter your login credentials. Once your information is entered in such places, your account can be immediately used as a breeding ground for nefarious activities.
- Facebook Security Hoaxes
About a month back a hoax message started doing the rounds on Facebook. The message stated that Facebook hackers were accessing user accounts and posting insulting messages from the hacked users account. This is a post that a lot of people took seriously and shared with their friends, only to eventually realize that the message itself was nothing but spam. This is just another example of effective social engineering on how scam artists manipulate the emotions of a user to get their way.
- Hidden Fee for Apps
There have been several cases where a user installs an application over Facebook and is asked for their phone number or credit card details. These details are then used to deduct installation fees for the application, thus classifying itself as a scam. Divulging such information to an unknown and untrustworthy source is just asking for trouble. These pieces of data can be manipulated and misused with considerable ease. If you find an app from an unknown source asking for personal details from you, refrain from releasing such information and do not install the application.
Measures to Avoid Facebook Scams
If a link takes you to a page other than the one specified, you must close the window immediately. This is the first sign of an illegitimate link. Moreover, if a link is taking too long to open you must be cautious and consider closing the window as well. The reason for this is that some hackers make the link address bounce between proxy servers so as to hide details about their location. Being aware of such small details is something that will protect you from falling for such scams. Here are some additional habits you must inculcate to avoid such scenarios:
- Verify App Authors
Before installing any application you must check the credibility and the authenticity of the author of that application. A simple Google search will provide you with enough information to help you make the right decision. If you find an author suspicious you must refrain from installing the app that is being offered. You should realize that installing tempting apps is not a necessity. You can do without them if that means protecting yourself from illicit activities.
- Read User Experiences
While you’re carrying out a Google search to verify the author of an application, you can also read some user experiences of the app. Most of the people who have bad experiences or discover that an app is actually a scam share this information over online platforms and you will easily locate such information, if it exists. Spending a few minutes gathering as much knowledge as possible about a certain application is something that will certainly aid you in the long run.
- Delete Unwanted Applications
If you encounter problems with a certain application you installed, then you must revoke its permissions and remove it from your Facebook account immediately. In order to achieve this you need to click on “Account” at the top right corner of the screen, then click on “Application Settings”, select “Authorized” from the “Show” drop-down box and then select the “X” button at the far end of the application that you wish to delete. In the subsequent pop-ups you need to select “Remove” and then select “Okay” to complete this process.
- Do Not Give Money
Almost all Facebook scams require you to transfer money through a specified channel. By refusing to indulge in the transfer of any cash you can protect yourself from a majority of the scams that are doing the rounds. As a rule you should not make any payments when you are taken to new pages via Facebook. The trustworthiness of such channels is very low and you must remember that scam artists are constantly coming up with new ways to trick people. Paying attention to these little details will go a long way to prevent you from getting conned.
- Do Not Share Personal Information
Most victims of Facebook scams are only afflicted after they have given out some personal details. Try to avoid sharing your details often and divulge as little as possible. This will greatly enhance the security blanket around you. There is a higher chance of getting duped if your personal details are present in different places. If you do end up releasing personal information, ensure that the source is trusted and the process is secure.
- Do Not Give Access to Friend List
If a certain application you are about to install requires access to your friend list then you should think twice about installing such an application. Most apps give lengthy permission lists so that they can gain access to certain features in the future if they expand their functionality. Not installing apps that ask for access to friend list is a wise habit that will prevent the spread of spam messages in case the application turns out to be fraudulent.
- Check the URL Properly
If you are directed to a page where your details need to be disclosed, then you must scrutinize the URL of the page properly. Suspicious looking links should be steered clear from. You must also carefully study any text that is present on the page. Simple grammatical errors or spelling errors are always a good method of spotting malicious and potentially dangerous pages.
- If it Sounds Good, Be Cautious
Scam artists use various psychological methods to entice people into clicking on the various links that they post. So the best form of defense is to apply some common sense and to not get carried away by any post or headline that seems sensational. Exercising a suitable amount of caution while dealing with such activities is something that will help you out a lot and this will ensure that you do not fall prey to the numerous scams that are doing the rounds.
Scam artists will always come up with new and innovative ways to trick people into revealing sensitive data and to entice them to click on innocent looking links. It is up to you, the user, to ensure that you protect yourself from such unsavory incidents. Stay informed about the latest scams that are doing the rounds on Facebook and most importantly, do not be impulsive when you see a link that you are tempted to click on. Study it carefully before following it. In addition to this, be wary of applications that you grant access to since such scams can extend to everyone on your list of friends. Showing some restraint and using some common sense while operating Facebook is an advice that will forever prove useful to you.