In my last article, I talked about the proliferation of sweepstakes scams that have become nearly epidemic. I pointed out that while anyone can be a victim of these scams, the elderly seem to be a favorite target. I also noted the growth of technology; the internet and social media being used to commit fraud upon consumers. Again, the elderly seem to be victims more often than the rest of the public.
Research estimated that by 2019 there will be 7 billion social media users around the globe. Cyber criminals love to utilize social media sites, attempting to relieve you of your personal information and gain access to your followers, friends and circles.
“Technology has given scammers the ability to reach more people at a lower cost,” said AARP Foundation representative Amy Nofziger.
It is estimated scammers bilked more than $1 billion from Americans last year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, online fraud took $141 million, and email-based fraud another 100 million!
Anyone, not just the elderly, can be a victim of a social media scam. Here are a few of the social media schemes making the rounds today:
• Facebook has become a hotbed for fraudulent activity. The most prevalent FB scam is one where a victim receives a message from someone in their roster of friends. The “friend” says they recently received a free government grant and saw the victim’s name as a grant recipient too. All the victim must do is follow the link the “friend” provided. The link takes them to a scammer’s site, where they are directed to pay a processing fee in the hundreds of dollars. Don’t give them any money. There is no free government grant money!
In another Facebook scheme, a victim receives a message from a “Facebook friend” asking for immediate help to reestablish their account. The “friend” is a hacker who has already hacked your friend’s account, asks you to check your email for a recovery code and let them know what it is. The code is a request to Facebook to reset YOUR password to hijack your account. Facebook doesn’t use the above procedure to reestablish an account, so make sure to protect yourself from the scam by being very wary of any “recovery” email you receive.
• WhatsApp is a free software application owned by Facebook that allows cross-platform messaging and internet phone calls. Scammers have targeted WhatsApp users, inviting them to download the popular platform’s video calling service. Victims are directed to a bogus website called “WhatsAppVideoStart.” Once information is entered and activated, the security of the user’s smart phone is compromised, exposing account information and passwords to the attacker. Avoiding this scam is as easy as updating your app only on the official WhatsApp site.
• Several social media sites have been targeted by scams which offer users exciting prizes such as free flights from well-known airlines. Users are encouraged to complete a survey for a chance to win two free tickets. They are then told the tickets can be claimed once the victims share the link with 10 of their network contacts. The final step of the scam requires users to supply their phone number and other personal information. Once all steps are completed, the user is then notified they haven’t won anything! As in most things, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Double-check with the actual company to see if the offer is legitimate.
Traditional mail and telemarketing scams remain the biggest rip offs for Americans, but as online and cell phone activity grows, everyone becomes more vulnerable. It is crucial that individuals keep a vigilant eye for such vulnerabilities.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.