Facebook Scams: How to identify them and protect yourself

There are plenty of scammers in the social network

  • Mark Zuckerberg is giving away $45 billion to 1000 Facebook users!
  • Eating onions could cause you to die early!
  • See who’s viewed your profile!

What do all of these statements have in common? They are FALSE. These are examples of Facebook scams that spread lies, trick you for your likes. In their worst form, these scams can install malware onto your computer or even get their hands on your hard-earned money.

To date, there have been over a million scams on Facebook, and that number is only growing.

It is wise to STAY ALERT when you are online, even when you are on Facebook, which can feel like just an extension of your family and friends.

Apart from your friends and family, there are over a billion other people on Facebook. And as more and more people join the network, it is becoming a highly attractive marketplace for hackers, scammers, phishers, and other crooks.

Online and email scams have been around for a while, hurting individuals and businesses. However, with Facebook, crooks have even more opportunity to do harm, as they can use your own network, and your trusted contacts against you. Facebook is a social network, and people see updates from their close friends and family. People instinctively trust news from friends and family and are willing to click on it. Before you know, the baiters have hooked in a whole network.

If you do not use smart tactics to protect yourself from scammers and baiters on Facebook, you are not only putting yourself at risk, but the whole circle of people who trust you.

Here are some of the common types of scams going on in Facebook, and a set of general rules to protect yourself against scammers and malware on Facebook.

1) Facebook giveaways
Who doesn’t like to get something for nothing? We are, after all, wired to search out good deals, and try our best to get a better deal than the next person. The latest version of this is a scam claiming that Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg is giving you a certain amount of money for free. We have seen these scams sweeping across Facebook networks in Nepal like wildfire. This one is just a matter of common sense, just like the Nigerian email scams of yesterday. Nobody will give you money for free. Why would they? But if you are not convinced by this logic, please verify that the post exists in Facebook’s official page or Mark Zuckerberg’s page. If it is not there (and it isn’t), you can be certain that it is a scam.

2) Other freebies and giveaways
This falls in the same category as above, but might be slightly less convincing to people who have seen the email scams. Free cruises, free flights, free concert tickets, all on Facebook! If someone is giving you something away for free, BE VERY SUSPICIOUS. It is highly likely that it is a scam. Especially if you have never been their customer before. If you have to provide them sensitive information like your credit card information before you can claim your prize, you have definitely been reeled into a scam. Stay away from these.

3) Spam and Fake Links in Comments
Highly commented and popular posts from reputed pages are seeing this infection. Spammers set up a name that is close to the name of the page, and add a comment impersonating the original page. The comment has a link to an external page where the person wants to drive traffic. Usually these don’t cause much more harm than a mild annoyance, but there is the probability that you will be directed to malicious websites. It is best to stay alert.

4) Who’s viewed your profile
This is one of the evergreen ones. Facebook has said again and again, that there is no way for an app or page to show you who is viewing your profile, but this does not seem to deter the people who fall for this again and again. These claims seem believable because they are customized for you. The ads show which ones of your friends has already found out who is viewing their profile. Of course they haven’t found anything out, they have just become the victims of a scam.

When you fall for it, there is usually an app you have to install, or a form you have to fill with your details. They get you to voluntarily hand over your information, and re-sell it. Now your information will be out there for spammers and identity thieves to enjoy. You might even be asked to install an app, which could infect your computer with a virus.

Do not believe these promises of information that you can’t get directly from Facebook.

Facebook has cracked down against this tactic, and instances of this are decreasing. However, they may still show up now and then in your Facebook. Report them when you see them.

5) Scare tactics
You’ve definitely seen these before: false claims of health hazards from eating onions, or gross pictures of worms in people’s internal organs. These posts are used to scare off people, and compel them to share.

People share with a very real sense that they are helping others, saving them from these health hazards. However, these posts are nothing but scaremongering for likes and shares.

They also use religious symbols, pictures of gods and goddesses that you are asked to share if you want to avoid bad luck.

By falling for these posts, you have become a messenger for them; spreading scare messages, and inaccurate health information among your network. Avoid liking and sharing, and report them when you see them.

6) Fake news
Fake news is a major source of like farming nowadays. These are people who just make things up, and put them up on Facebook, to pass as real news. Many people believe them, and before you know, misinformation has spread like a fire. After a disaster, there are always people like this, waiting to cash in on the traffic that comes to their page or site as a result.

After the earthquake, we saw people posting videos of swimming pools during earthquakes in other countries, passing it off as the effect of Nepal’s earthquake. While this is a relatively innocent post, we also saw many people on Facebook predicting another devastating earthquake, and even going so far as to give an actual time and date for it. Many people did not know that there is no way to predict earthquakes with such accuracy, believed these fake newsmongers, and fear spread throughout.

If you fall for fake news like this and like it, or share it, your friends and family who trust you could fall for it too, because they will see it posted from a credible source (you). It is a good idea to verify the source of news before liking or sharing. You don’t want to be the one spreading misinformation in the network, especially as it can do real psychological damage.

7) “Mugged on vacation” scam
This is a sophisticated scam that has scammed thousands of people in the United States out of their money. In this scam, there is someone you know, but what you might not know is that their account has been taken over by scammers. Usually they get in touch with friends or family of the person send them Facebook messages about a travel emergency, asking you to send money ASAP.

The message might be something like this: “Things got out of control on my trip to London. I was mugged, and all my belongings including cell phone and credit card were stolen at gunpoint. I need your help flying back home and paying my hotel bills!”

Make sure you call this friend / family member or someone else who is close to them, to verify their whereabouts first, before doing anything.

So these are some of the common tactics of spreading lies, tricking you, spamming you, downloading malicious code onto your computer, and even conning you out of your hard-earned money on Facebook. How can you save yourself from these unscrupulous people?

Here are ten tips for staying safe on Facebook:

1) Start with skepticism.
This is key to keeping yourself safe online. Being skeptical seems to be a little difficult for all the believers out there. But we can’t stress this enough. Do not believe everything you see on Facebook. Just because it is online, or comes with great graphics, does not mean it is true. You need to have a high level of skepticism if you are to survive in the online world where anonymous predators are lurking, ready to prey on people’s emotions, and good intentions.

2) Run a quick online search.
When an offer seems too good to be true, it is probably a scam. If they have an “urgent” component, and require you to respond now, or a “confidentiality” component, and require you not to speak to others about it, all sorts of warning signs should go off. These tricks are designed to restrict your access to information and feedback, so you fall prey to the scammer. Run a quick online search before responding to anything like this. Most likely, a quick google search will show you results indicating that it is a scam.

3) Only install genuine apps.
Before installing a new app, see the stars rating on the application. Of course, there are a lot of genuine apps out there, but it is pretty easy to tell. Scam apps usually do not participate in the star rating system.

4) Never, ever send money to someone you have only talked to online.
Scammers are experts at tugging on your heartstrings, so you need to be rational to avoid falling into their trap. If you are giving money to charity, vet them. Make sure you type their official website address, check the links there, and donate there. If you are in a relationship via Facebook messaging, and are asked to send money, run the other way, as fast as you can. If your friend or family member is asking for money via Facebook message, verify with that friend/family member through another channel: phone/skype/email.

5) Always verify news before spreading it.
You don’t want to be the source of fake news in your network. It hurts your credibility, and you will no longer be a trusted source. Before you decide to share something with your network, do a little legwork to see if it is actually true. Most news sources on Facebook are fake. If you are following the Facebook page of a trusted news source like BBC or CNN, verify it there. Otherwise, google it. Verifying it takes less than a minute, and you will be doing your part in keeping lies from circulating, and panic spreading.

6) Do not keep your account settings as “Public.”
This is just inviting trouble, as you are giving out information to everyone with an account whose visibility settings are “Public”. Unless you are never going to post anything on your Facebook account, or are a celebrity whose Facebook presence is carefully thought-out, take a minute right now to restrict who sees your account. You are better off keeping your account setting private, because even information that you might not think is very important could be used against you. Even if you are not explicit about your location, this can easily be found out through your geo-tagged photos, and if you are away, that is a green light for would-be robbers to break into your house, for example.

7) Clean up your account to weed out unwanted apps or pages.
Go to “Account/Privacy Settings,” and click on “Apps and Websites/Edit your Settings” at the bottom of the Privacy Settings Page. Click on “Remove unwanted or spammy apps.” and remove all the apps you don’t use on a normal basis.

8) Set up your trusted contacts
Setting up a list of your trusted contacts will help you if your account gets hacked, and you need to get your access back or to disable your account so the hacker cannot do irreparable damage by using your account to target your social network.

Facebook defines Trusted Contacts as “close friends that you can call for help to get back into your account.” You can create a list of three to five people. They must be people you trust, but also must be regular users of Facebook, so they are well set up to help you when needed. To set up your trusted contacts, go to “Security Settings”, and choose your people.

9) Check out these links that will help keep you safe.
Of course, like any other world, there are also good people out there. Here are some of them. Check out their pages