Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
It seems everyone is using social media today, and for good reason. It connects people across the world to their family and friends. It allows you to share art, thoughts and feelings with like-minded communities. It also serves as a great marketing tactic for many businesses.
Despite these positives, there may be some dangers lurking in your social networks. Scammers love to target individuals who frequently use social media, and if you’re not careful, you can go from “influencer” to “online scam victim” rather quickly.
On Facebook in particular, scammers may try to trick users with fake profiles and viral hoaxes. It’s important to understand what these scams look like — and the potential consequences — if you want to avoid falling for them.
Common Facebook Scams
There are several ways scammers use social media to find and fool unsuspecting victims. Two of the most common are friend request scams using fake profiles, and viral hoaxes that encourage victims to share a false message with their friends.
Some fake profile tactics involve creating profiles of attractive people or celebrities, or using the “girl/guy next door” approach to lure Facebook users into thinking they’re a genuine potential friend. Fraudsters may also try to pose as someone you know by lifting information and photos from one of your real friends’ profiles. Both of these approaches may ultimately lead to a catfishing scenario or an online romance scam.
Many Facebook users have also reported receiving hoax messages, similar to chain emails, from friends (or con profiles) that claim they’ve received a friend request from someone who is pretending to be you. They then instruct you to forward the message to your friends so that they are aware of what’s going on.
Here is an example of such a message, reported by The Washington Post:
“Hi….I actually got another friend request from you which I ignored so you may want to check your account. Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too….I had to do the people individually. PLEASE DO NOT ACCEPT A NEW friendship FROM ME AT THIS TIME.”
If you see this, check the profile who sent it to you to see if they were a real account or are impersonating a contact. If they’re a fraud, report the profile. Either way, do not forward the message.
Once you hit the “accept” button on a fake friend request or hoax message, that’s when a would-be scammer will try to strike. This “friend” may try to convince you to provide some personal information and even send them money. If you agree, you could lose your hard-earned cash, or worse, become the victim of
How to Better Protect Yourself Against Friend Request Scams
When someone is posing as your friend, you are far more likely to believe what that person is telling you. If you’re suspicious of a message or request coming from a supposed “friend,” here are some simple things you can do to reduce your chances of falling for a scam.
- Vet every friend request. Check your list of friends and see if this is someone you’re already friends with. If you already have that person on your list and their regular profile is active, it’s probably safe to say this new profile you see is fake.
- Never send money. A government grant, you say? Just send $1,500 to receive $100,000? Anyone asking you to send money on Facebook or any other social media site is almost certainly a scammer. Keep that hard-earned money in your own possession. And if someone you know does ask for money via Facebook for any reason, talk to this person directly to confirm it’s really them making the request.
- Change your privacy settings. This is a simple preventative method that stops the problem at the root. On Facebook, you can choose who you want to share your photos and profile information with (friends, friends of friends, anyone, etc.). You can also change your profile so that no one can share your posts on their pages.
- Only accept requests from friends of friends. While this might go without saying, you shouldn’t accept any friend requests from people you don’t know. Setting your account to only allow “friend of friend” requests can help weed out some scammers, but remember that some of your Facebook contacts might accept friend requests from random individuals. It’s always better to check someone out for yourself when deciding to accept a request.
It’s easy to fall for a friend request scam, but you don’t have to be the next victim. Always verify your friend requests and follow your intuition. If you’re unsure of any information someone is providing you about themselves, you can run a background check to investigate further. As always, remember that if anything sounds too good to be true, often it isn’t.