Facebook has more than 2.4 billion monthly active users—and while it’s a great platform to stay connected with family and friends, its sheer size makes it a prime target for fraudsters..
Facebook scams can range from fairly innocuous fake giveaways (no, brands aren’t offering $50 gift cards and iPads for free) to more malicious Facebook Messenger scams targeting users’ cash and identities.
What are Facebook scams?
Con artists use different features and functions on Facebook, including friend requests and messages, to impersonate real people, to spread malware, or to trick you into giving away money and information. Facebook users are no strangers to scams and hackers. More than 50 million accounts were hacked in September 2018, and the platform has been criticized for allowing fake accounts and misinformation to spread.
Some Facebook scams may be obvious, like the equivalent of a Nigerian prince emailing you to ask for money. Others are more sophisticated—and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a real friend request from a cyber criminal or a link to a video of cute animals from one that will infect your computer with a virus.
Facebook users are no strangers to scams and hackers. More than 50 million accounts were hacked in September 2018, and the platform has been criticized for allowing fake accounts and misinformation to spread.
While you may not have control over how Facebook works, you can be on the lookout for scams and take some simple precautions to try and protect your privacy.
Facebook friend request scams
Facebook friend request scams usually involve criminals setting up fake or spoofed profiles and pretending to be someone you already know or trying to lure you into a relationship. In some cases, these scammers will send a hoax message and ask you to forward it.
Related: What is spoofing?
The goal of friend request scams may be to trick you into sending money or providing personal information so thieves can steal your identity.
A similar scam called “malicious tagging” happens when you get tagged in a Facebook post with a bunch of other friends, which could trick you into thinking the video or link in the post is safe to open. But if you click through, you could end up downloading malware that both collects your personal information and reposts the message to keep the scam alive.
If you receive a friend request from someone you know you’re already friends with, proceed with caution. Search for that person’s profile on your list of friends—if their profile is already active, the new request may have come from a scammer. You can also limit who can find you and friend you in your Facebook privacy settings.
To try and avoid malicious tagging scams, don’t click shortened links (where you can’t see the whole URL), and don’t open links or videos that are described with language like “shocking.”
Finally, report to Facebook any fake accounts, imposters and thieves who use your personal information to set up spoofed profiles.
Facebook Messenger scams
Facebook Messenger scams often work in tandem with friend request scams. Criminals create fake accounts or hack existing accounts and message you asking for money. If you believe the scammer is actually someone you know—or from a reputable organization—you may be more likely to give in to their request.
Facebook warns users of a few different money scams floating around in Messenger:
- Romance scams: Criminals pretend to be in difficult relationships and chat you up to gain your trust and sympathy before asking for cash. A variation on this scam involves thieves posing as members of the military.
- Lottery scams: You’ll receive a message telling you to claim a prize in exchange for a small fee (and your personal and financial information).
- Donation scams: Accounts impersonating famous figures or reputable organizations will solicit donations for a fake cause.
- Inheritance scams: Criminals pose as representatives handing out inheritance money if you hand over your personal information.
- Loan scams: Scammers offer supposedly low-rate, instant loans if you pay a small advance fee.
Other things to be wary of: people who message you claiming to represent the government and scammers who request payment or advance fees in the form of a gift card.
Part of trying to prevent these scams is using common sense. “If something seems off in any way or sounds too good to be true, approach it with a healthy dose of skepticism and then simply ignore it or don’t interact with it,” said Attila Tomaschek, an online privacy expert and researcher at ProPrivacy.com.
Don’t send money to people you don’t know in person. If you think you’ve received a legitimate request from someone you know, verify with them using a different form of communication, and don’t send personal or financial details via Messenger.
Also, never pay advance fees for loans or prizes, and be skeptical of nonsensical messages or those with lots of spelling and grammar errors. If you receive a spammy link in Messenger, don’t click on it.
If you encounter a scammer, you can report them to Facebook within Messenger.
Facebook Marketplace scam
Like many websites where you can buy and sell goods directly with other consumers, Facebook Marketplace offers fraudsters an opportunity to steal both your money and your personal information.
Here’s how one scam works: “Sellers” create fake marketplace listings or ads that promise killer deals on items they don’t actually have for sale. When you click to buy, you’re sent to a payment page that prompts you to enter your credit card information—but you never receive what you purchase, and thieves now have access to your financial data.
Other sellers on Facebook Marketplace may not be out to steal your personal information. They may simply con you into paying a high price for a defective item or send you something other than what you thought you bought. Some may even want to rob you when you meet in person.
There are a few basic steps to help you avoid a Facebook Marketplace scam:
- Don’t fall for deals that seem too good to be true or listings that pressure you to buy now.
- Never enter credit card or bank account information at a link from a Marketplace listing or ad.
- If a seller raises their price after you’ve agreed to buy, move on.
- If possible, shop locally so you can try before you buy.
- Always meet in a public place when you’re exchanging items in person.
- If you’re the seller, don’t give an item to a buyer without collecting payment at the same time.
If you do come across a scammer, Facebook recommends reporting them. You can do this directly from the buyer’s or seller’s profile.
How can I protect myself from Facebook scams?
Using Facebook doesn’t mean you’re destined to fall victim to scammers. The bottom line: If something on Facebook seems fishy, it probably is.
Here are a few ways to try and protect yourself.
Review friend requests carefully. Only accept requests from friends and friends of friends, and ignore duplicate requests from people you’re already friends with.
Don’t send money via Facebook. Ever. If a family member or friend is making a genuine request for help, you should verify it with them independently.
Use Google’s reverse-image search to verify questionable people and products. Drop profile photos of people who friend you into Google. Do the same with products from Marketplace listings and ads. Scammers may use stock photos or photos stolen from other users—a good indication that something’s not right.
Improve your privacy settings. Click on the upper right corner of your Facebook toolbar and go to Settings > Privacy to edit your profile options. Limit who can look you up using your phone number and email address and who can send you friend requests. Also, make sure no one can post on your timeline without your approval (under Settings > Timeline and Tagging).
Enable two-factor authentication, or 2FA. This security measure requires you to enter a code (generally sent via text or email) in addition to your username and password when you log in to an online account. This adds a layer of security against bad actors accessing your account. You can set up 2FA for Facebook in Settings > Security and Login.
Report sketchy accounts and pages directly to Facebook. Facebook has a guide to reporting different types of content—in many cases, you’ll find a “Find Support or Report Post/Group/Profile” option right on a post or page. Look for the toggle arrows or dots to access reporting settings. You can also report a sketchy buyer or seller on Facebook Marketplace.
Facebook also has a process for reporting content you can’t access (another user blocked you, for example).
These basic steps and some common sense can help protect you against Facebook scams.