Online crooks are watching you: What you say and do can open the door to a rip-off

By Dennis Horton
Director, Rockford Regional Office
Better Business Bureau

There are millions of individuals visiting social media sites every day – they are on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram dozens of time a day. With that much activity the sites are fertile ground for scammers.

Unfortunately, consumers often don’t think about the serious problems they can encounter. Additionally, they may ignore the need to adjust privacy setting on these sites, which is important to do to protect themselves. Consumers also innocently give away important information about themselves; what they are doing and where they are which plays into the hands of crooks.

Scammers spend their days scanning social media sites to look for clues that will open the way to rip-off their next victim. That fact is not top of mind for most consumers but it should be. Consumers, need to think twice and review how and what they post.

So what do scammers do that can put individuals online at risk?

“Like” harvesting

Scammers get victims to “like,” “share,” or repost postings. They pose as a well-known company offering the chance to win a big prize, to anyone who shares or likes the post. The scammer accumulates thousands of followers and then sells the social media identity he created, complete with followers, to another company for their own marketing purposes.

Protection: Most share to win posts are scams – Don’t do it – the result could be that you end up on a “suckers” list of potential scam targets.

Distress calls

Because they are tracking your posts scammers look for information that allows them to pretend to be you and they then contact relative claiming to be in trouble and need money. They may even say they are kidnappers and are holding you for ransom.

Protection: Think before you post and make sure your privacy settings only allow selected people to see your post. Make sure you prevent access to friends of friends.

Break ins

Posting your vacation or even a day trip signals you’re not home giving the all clear to crooks.

Protection: Again, Don’t do it. Think about whether you need to tell everyone every time you leave home.

I.D. Theft

Providing information and photos of yourself makes it easy for I.D. thieves to pass themselves off as you.

In some cases, they set up duplicate accounts in victims’ names and then try to link up with and scam victims’ friends.

Protection: The main way scammers perpetrate this crime is through hacking into users’ accounts because of weak or stolen passwords. Use a unique password for each of your social media accounts and change them regularly.


Often, victims of this scam receive an email claiming there’s a problem with their social media account and asking them to sign on using a link in the message. This takes them to a fake sign-on page where they have to enter their account details, which may then be used for identity theft or spamming.

Protection: Never following links or click on attachments inside an email. Instead, go directly to the social media site and check your account details there.

Malware onto your PC

Scammers use fake links to products and services, often promoted as bargains or prizes. After following the links viruses and spyware are uploaded onto the victim’s computer.

Protection: Think if it seems too good to be true – it probably is. In some cases, the offer may actually be real but look for red flags like clickable links that may signal a scam. Also make sure your security software is up to date.

Great jobs and giveaways

Free offers frequently pop up on social media networks – some of them legitimate. But, others such as great job offers are fake and are based on information you have posted about yourself.

When it’s a free giveaway be wary of the cost associated with accepting the offer, shipping and handling fees may far outweigh the value of the item.

Protection: Simply don’t ever pay to receive giveaways or jobs.

The greatest take away here always think before you act.

Dennis Horton is the Director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.

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