Top 6 Facebook Scams, and How to Protect Yourself

Posted at Sunday, April 12, 2009

Top 6 Facebook Scams, and How to Protect Yourself

Scams are a large and growing problem on Facebook and other social networking sites. Here are 6 scams you could encounter on Facebook and how to protect yourself against them.

Online communities, like brick and mortar communities, offer a wealth of situations in which people can get separated from their personal information or their money (or both) by fraudsters and confidence artists. You have a better chance to defend yourself against scams and schemes if you are aware of them. Below is a list of six common type of scams that you could run into on Facebook and how to avoid falling into a trap.

Rogue Widgets

The Con: Widgets are all the rage on Facebook. They look innocent enough. Send your friends a virtual gift of some sort, perhaps, or play some sort of game with them. The problem is, some of them are not what they seem. The Secret Crush widget installed spyware onto your computer, then encouraged you to have your friends install it. Another called Error Check System was stealing personal information from user’s computers. Widgets can be as dangerous as they are attractive.

The Safeguard: Use a great deal of caution when installing third-party applications. When you click the button to accept the installation of a widget, you are telling that widget, and its author, that your personal information is available to them. You need to know what the widget author is going to do with that information before you allow it onto your page.

Phishing Schemes

The Con: All phishing schemes are born equal. They use official-looking graphics to convince you that you are dealing with official sources, then try to scam you out of private information. In the case of Facebook, they make the information request look like it is from the official site, and they will probably try to get you to enter your username and password.

The Safeguard: There is only one time when you should be asked to log in to Facebook, and that is when you navigate directly to the site, i.e. your page, the main site, or a friends page, directly via the URL. If you are ever presented with a request for Facebook login information at any other time, don’t enter it. Instead, go back to your normal Facebook login page.

The Nigerian Scam

The Con: This is one of the oldest scams in the book, predating the Internet by centuries. The Nigerian scam, also known by many other names (419 fraud, Nigerian scam, Nigerian bank scam, or Nigerian money offer) is a confidence trick in which the target is persuaded to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a significantly larger gain. These are most likely in Facebook if a friend’s account has been hijacked, perhaps by phishing, as above. You will be contacted by the friend and asked for money for one reason or another. But, of course, it will be con men and not your friend on the other end.

The Safeguard: Don’t send a “friend” money until you verify that it is indeed the friend on the other end. If possible, talk to the friend in person, and be suspicious if that is said not to be possible. At the very least, ask an extremely personal question that you know the answer to but a hacker could not. There are a million of those types of question based on your intimate knowledge of a real friend.

Marketing “communities”

The Con: We know that part of the reason you come to Facebook is for community. But be very careful. Some Facebook user groups are nothing more than cleverly disguised vehicles for marketing. The instant you click the opt-in button, you could be opening yourself up for whatever sales tactics the community organizer has in mind, such as email, mailings, or telephone calls.

The Safeguard: Don’t just join every group that asks you to. If you are not absolutely sure who runs the requesting community, or don’t know whether or not it is officially linked to the organization that it claims to be, simply reject the request. Your personal privacy is worth much more than one more community membership.

The Koobface Virus

The Con: The Koobface virus, and others like it, can infect your Facebook page if you click a direct link and then agree to download something, usually a software update or a video codec that are said to be required to watch a video, or something similar. Instead, the virus infects your page and your computer, where it can wreak havoc. Worse, viruses like these spread themselves by sending email or writing on the walls of your friends to visit the same page that infected you, thereby spreading itself.

The Safeguard: Don’t click on links from people or places that you don’t know. More importantly, never click on links on such pages that are asking you for permission to download something. If they say you need something, like a Flash update, go instead to the vendors site and see if they want you to perform that update. Then, and only then, download and install the update.

Sexual Scams

The Con: Finally, beware that everyone is not who they seem to be on Facebook. Virtually anyone can set up a Facebook profile claiming to be whoever they wish to be. So that sexy girl you just met, or that really hot guy on Facebook may be a 50-year-old bald guy from Cleveland or someone you may even know posing as someone they are not. Members have been conned out of things like nude photos by such impostors, and then been blackmailed into performing sexual favors, as an example, to avoid having those photos published on the Web.

The Safeguard: Use some common sense. Understand that someone you just met on line may not be who they claim to be. Don’t send material of any kind that you would be ashamed see on line, or in your school paper, but especially not something like nude photos. Always proceed with caution with people that you don’t know in person.

These are probably just a few of the ways that you can get conned on Facebook. There as as many more as the nefarious mind of cyberspace can invent, or bring in from the non-virtual world. Two simple rules will help keep you out of trouble. Never give personal or incriminating information to people you don’t know; it may be wise to never do this at all. And be aware that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.