We’ve heard about fake email accounts swaying news media and political events, but these fraudsters can strike close to home.
If anyone on Facebook offers you money—even a friend or a well-known person—stop and check it out.
Impostor scams proliferate on social media and prey on our trust. The prevalence of digital photographs and logos online makes it easy for scammers to steal images and create social media accounts that appear to be owned and operated by companies, agencies, celebrities or public officials. For example, a message from the IRS demanding you pay back taxes immediately or face imprisonment is far more persuasive because it appears to be coming from a government office.
Facebook estimates that 2-3 percent of its users—as many as 60 million accounts—are fake. In fact, The New York Times reported last month that several accounts masquerading as Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have swindled Facebook users out of thousands of dollars.
Here in Iowa, impostors have also targeted consumers using a fake Iowa Attorney General account on Facebook. These scammers pretend to be Tom Miller and send messages offering consumers funds through a grant. The catch is that to apply and qualify for the funds, Facebook users are asked to send their personal information and even make payments to the impostor to cover taxes, processing fees or other made-up charges.
You can protect yourself from impostors on social media by applying the same methods that keep you safe from scammers calling your phone or sending you mailings: Stop. Think. Verify. If you’re contacted about an offer that seems too good to be true, or receive a message that attempts to scare you in to taking immediate action, take time to think through what is being asked of you and determine whether it makes sense.
Here are some other things you can do to protect yourself while using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social media account:
- Don’t give out personal information. Be wary anytime someone asks for your password or login information—even if the person claims he or she is a Facebook employee who threatens to shut down your account unless you “verify” it. Remember, a legitimate business or agency would never ask you to email, text or Facebook message them your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers.
- Don’t pay to claim a “prize.” Watch out for anyone who asks you to wire money or send numbers for iTunes, money or gift cards, even if it seems like a legitimate way for you to claim lottery winnings or government grant funds, or to take part in a money-making opportunity.
- Use the phone. If the individual contacting you says they’re with a particular company or agency, contact that company by phone using the number listed on the company’s website or in the phone book and verify that the information you’re receiving from the online contact is legitimate.
- Look for a blue or gray badge. If you see a blue badge (a blue circle with a check mark) on a Facebook page or profile, it means that Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic page or profile for a public figure, media company or brand. A gray badge means that Facebook confirmed that this is an authentic page for this business or organization. For example, the legitimate Iowa Attorney General account has a gray badge). Learn more about verified accounts through Facebook.
- Report the account. On Facebook, go to the account in question and click on the three dots near the “Message” icon. You can also report the activity to the legitimate account holder.
- Protect your friends. Make it harder for Facebook impostors by hiding your friends list so fraudsters can’t contact your friends if they clone your account. To do it through a web browser, open your Facebook profile, click on the “Friends” tab, click “Edit Privacy” (which may be under the pencil tab) and then select “Only me” on the “Who can see your friends list?” drop-down menu.
Source: Consumer Protection Division, Iowa Attorney General’s Office Contact: 515.281-5923 or 888.777.4590, firstname.lastname@example.org