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Social Media Scams

Social media has become an important part of many people’s lives. It lets people share photos with family members, catch up with old friends, and get the daily news. Despite these benefits, social media also has risks: it has become a tool used by scam artists to take advantage of people. As the number of social media scams increases, you should know what to look for. Here are a few examples of common social media scams:

“Clickbait” Scams

“Zach” checked his social media feed and saw a post titled, “See backstage photos from last night’s concert!!” He “clicked” on the post and a new window opened that instructed him to “click” a link to update his photo viewer. After Zach “clicked” the link, his antivirus software told him that it had blocked an attempt to install a virus on his computer. He immediately logged out of his account, closed his browser, and scanned his computer using his antivirus software. The scan found no threats, so Zach logged back into his social media account and changed his password and security questions.

Impersonation Scams

After logging into her account, “Nora” received a private message from her best friend “Margie” that said she had lost her purse while on vacation in another country and needed a $600 wire transfer to pay for her hotel room. Nora was supposed to have dinner with Margie that night, so she knew the story was not true. When she called the real Margie, Nora learned that a scam artist had hacked Margie’s account and used it to send fake messages.

Online Dating and Romance Scams

“Jason” received a friend request from a stranger named “Emily.” After Jason accepted the request, Emily said she was an American living in Germany. They seemed to hit it off and began to plan a vacation for that summer when Emily would be back in the U.S. Emily sent Jason a $5,000 check for the cost of the trip, but then suddenly asked him to send $4,500 back to her because she had been laid off from her job and needed the money for rent. Jason deposited the check and wired the money, but was soon contacted by his bank, which told him the $5,000 check was fake and he had to repay the bank $4,500. On top of losing the money, the fake “Emily” disappeared and Jason never heard from her again.

Quizzes and Polls

“Laura” saw a post on her social media feed titled “Win a free TV.” She clicked on the link in the post and was forwarded to a website that asked her to answer three questions and enter her name, telephone number, address, bank account number and Social Security number to be entered to win the free TV. Laura realized that this information could be used to steal her identity, so she closed the browser and logged out of her account.

Phishing Scams

“Tim” received an email that said it was from his favorite social media website. The email said that his account had been locked and asked him to “verify” his account by clicking a link. After he clicked on the link, Tim was forwarded to a webpage that looked very similar to the social media website. The webpage directed Tim to enter his username and password to verify and unlock his account. He entered this information before realizing he was on the wrong website. Tim then contacted the social media website at the email address listed on its real webpage, and it helped him recover his account.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

“Anna” received a message on her social media account from someone who said she had won $100,000 in a lottery sponsored by the social media website. The individual told Anna that she needed to send a $750 reloadable card to pay the taxes and fees on her winnings. Because she had not entered any lotteries, Anna knew that she could not be a winner. She closed the message and reported the person to the social media website.

Work at Home and other Money-making Schemes

“Heather” received a post from someone who claimed she could make thousands  of dollars from home every week if she invested a small amount of money. After she expressed interest in the program, the person asked for Heather’s credit card number to pay $19.99 for a startup kit. Heather gave the information, but never received the startup kit. When she checked her credit card account statement several months later, she discovered that, in addition to the $19.99 fee, the company had charged her a $99.99 membership fee every month. Heather disputed the charges with her credit card company, which reversed the charges and changed her account number.

How to Avoid Social Media Scams

  1. Don’t take the “bait.” Never click on pop-up messages, posts that contain content that seems shocking, scandalous, or too good to be true, or links or attachments in unsolicited emails and text messages.
  2. Create a strong password. This means that it is  a minimum of seven characters and contains a mixture of upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers. You should never provide your password to someone you do not know.
  3. Don’t provide your information (personal or financial) online unless you know the website you are using is legitimate, secure, and encrypted. It is also important to make sure that you are dealing with the right entity and using its real website and not a look-alike site created by a scam artist. Also, look for “https://” (the “s” stands for secure) before a web address.
  4. Delete unsolicited emails and text messages that request personal or account information. Companies you do business with already have this information and do not need to verify or confirm it. If there is a security breach, most companies contact their customers in writing to alert them of the breach.
  5. Contact companies only through trusted channels. If you are concerned about an email or other message you received, call the company immediately at its publically-listed phone number. Never trust the phone number or email address given in the message.
  6. Verify the person you are dealing with is who they claim to be, and not an imposter. Contact a friend or family member who could confirm the person’s story, or try contacting the real person at a phone number you know is correct.
  7. Don’t be rushed into sending money immediately or secretly. Don’t send money by wire transfer, overnight delivery, or reloadable cards unless you are absolutely certain that you are sending money to a real friend or family member.

Taking Action

If you are a victim of a social media scam, take the following steps:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) 382-4357
TTY: (866) 653-4261
www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov external link icon

For additional information, contact the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
TTY: (651) 297-7206 or TTY: (800) 366-4812


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