Facebook scams are on the rise, and always changing to as the old ones get exposed. Even on a social media network where you connect with known friends and family, it’s hard to know who to trust anymore!
The internet is full of scammers. It's just a numbers game. There are hundreds of millions (maybe even billions) of people online, so only if 0.01% are demented enough to lie, cheat, and steal their way riches, that's still thousands of individuals online every day actively trying to con you.
This includes people who want your personal details as well as those who are trying to get money from you. It’s often easy to spot scams when you’re looking for them, but scam artists are getting smarter. Many of them are taking to social media platforms like Facebook.
This gives them the ability to target people who aren’t aware. Facebook is particularly concerning because information spreads so quickly through social sharing. Users often don’t take the time to look closely at posts before sharing them, meaning that scams spread at an alarming rate. Oh, my uncle shared this. It must be legit. But did your uncle read past the headline?
Here are the most significant Facebook scams that are sweeping the net and what you can look out for. We’re focusing on types of scams, as the specifics tend to vary over time. I haven't personally be a victim of a Facebook scam, but my Grandparents have! They are occasionally targeted by people trying to connect with them pretending to be old friends, or friends of their grandkids.
1. Lottery Fraud
This is a familiar type of scam that’s taken on a new form. Scammers develop fake websites and profile pages that look like they’re from a legitimate sweepstakes or lottery company. Publishers Clearing House is one of the most common examples. There are plenty of others too. A variation on this theme is where the scammer claims to be someone famous, like Mark Zuckerberg.
Users are typically contacted using Facebook messenger and informed that they have won a prize. To claim that prize, users first need to send in money. Needless to say, the prize will never arrive.
The biggest red flag is the requirement to pay. Most legitimate lottery companies will never require you to pay in order to collect your winnings. Any payment normally occurs when you entered the lottery initially. A second issue is winning a lottery that you never entered. This isn’t going to happen.
2. Fake Friends
Another common trick is where scam artists pretend to be a friend. For example, your friend Alex might message you and say that he won $1,000 through a contest and noticed that your name was on the list of winners too. Alex would then refer you to someone else, who would try to get money out of you.
Alternatively, the ‘friend’ may try to get you to give them money directly. This is often done by telling you a sob story. Elderly victims have reported this pattern with people pretending to be grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Because the person being targeted often doesn’t talk about the topic with other family members, the scam can be unnoticed for far too long.
The trick works because people trust their friends. They assume that if a friend recommended something or asks for a favor, it must be legitimate. In practice, they’re normally being contacted from a fake profile. The scam artists tend to take the profile image and name from the real person’s profile, so it looks legitimate at first glance.
This is also why you should never accept a friend request from someone who is already on your friend list. Check with the owner of the original account first to find out whether they created a new account or whether someone is trying to scam you.
Even if the account is genuine, watch out for requests that seem out of character. Facebook accounts can be hacked without the user knowing. When this happens, scammers may use direct messaging to contact friends and scam them.
3. Dating and Romance Scams
Facebook is a particularly common place for dating scams. Scam artists sometimes develop entire online relationships with their targets, then leverage that perceived relationship for money.
For example, the scammer might ask for money to pay an urgent bill or for a plane ticket to come and visit. Scammers target people who are lonely and vulnerable, using the public portions of Facebook profiles as a guide.
Scammers can also weave some very believable stories. It’s easy to see how you might get sucked in, especially if you already trusted and cared for the person that you thought you were talking to. Many victims of these scams are people who are intelligent and simply got caught up in the emotions involved.
4. Is This Video Yours?
With this scam, users are sent a message through chat asking whether a particular video is theirs. Never click on the video, as it is typically malware of some form.
Because the phrasing tends to change over time, it’s important to be wary of any links sent through Facebook Messenger. If someone sends one, always verify that they actually sent it before opening it.
An easy sign of this scam is if you get a message out of the blue, from someone who doesn’t normally send you video links. For example, a message like this from an old friend you haven’t talked to in years is highly suspicious and almost certainly a scam.
5. Messenger Fraud
The ‘is this video yours?’ is an example of a larger pattern – Messenger fraud. This is where scammers are using the Messenger app to send messages that appear to be from people you know. The messages will often be links or videos, but there could also be a request for personal information instead.
This pattern sometimes occurs when scammers create fake profiles and get you to accept them as friends. It can also happen when a friend’s Facebook account gets hacked. The person may not even be aware that this is happening or that messages are being sent out on their behalf.
As a result, you need to pay close attention to anything that is sent to you through Facebook Messenger, even if it comes from a person you trust. Whenever possible, verify with them outside of the app, especially if the message is out of character or was unexpected.
6. Fake Programs
Facebook scammers also promote low-quality or fake programs. This often includes programs that are meant to be a way to make money, including those that relate to cryptocurrency, investments or internet marketing.
Programs typically make claims that are untrue or unrealistic. It’s only once you click through and provide personal details that you truly know what is involved. Facebook does focus on ad quality, so the worst such programs do get excluded. Even so, you should be wary of any ad that you see, along with posts that other people make.
7. Famous Names
Facebook scams often use famous names to try and inspire trust. A recent version of this involved messages featuring Martin Lewis, who founded a site called Money Saving Expert. The messages encouraged Facebook members to use fake investment approaches.
Another recent example was Tyler Perry. His name has been associated with various Facebook ‘giveaways’, even though was not involved in any such programs. Scammers were simply using his name. He has also been the subject of such scams in the past, with scam artists claiming that people could pay money to get an audition with him.
8. Copy and Paste This Status
A particularly common trick is where people are asked to copy and paste a specific status. One recent version suggested that Facebook was filtering out which posts users saw. Anyone who saw the post was asked to leave a comment and copy and paste the wording as their own status. Plenty of people did, mostly because they felt that there was no risk, along with a slim chance that the request was real.
An older variation said that Facebook had changed its terms and conditions. Users needed to copy the text as their own status to ‘opt out’ of the change. The claim was complete nonsense, yet many people followed the directions ‘just in case’.
Scams like this are odd, as there is no apparent gain. The statuses are being copied not shared, so no single page is gaining traction as a consequence. Despite this, it’s still important to be careful. Reposting messages like this is certainly an indication that a person is gullible. That may mean they are targeted for more significant scams later on.
9. Information Scams
Another approach that seems harmless is when posts just ask for information. These play into our fascination with one another. There are many variations of this, ranging from simple to complex. For example, one post might ask who remembers their first phone number. While the post doesn’t ask for the number explicitly, many commenters will provide the number.
Others may ask people to fill in short questionnaires then copy and paste the questionnaire to their status, for other people to do. The whole process seems fun and harmless, as the questions are often simple (like favorite food).
It isn’t as harmless as it seems. Some of the information you give can be used to prove identity or even to answer security questions to reset your password. Even if your posts are private to friends only, a surprising number of people can see them. You might also have a fake account friended or one of your friends could get hacked.
10. Like-Farming Scams
Like-farming and engagement-baiting content follows a similar idea. These are posts that ask users to like, comment or share. They often take advantage of sob stories, saying that people should help to promote awareness of the situation. Some will even claim that more visibility will financially help the person or people involved.
Another common variation is posts that try to make people feel guilty. For example, there might be an image of a sick child, along with text that claims no one will share or no one will pray for her because she is sick.
The scams are used to attract likes to a page, but they’re more malicious than that. The underlying page will often be changed later on to one that promotes products. This makes it look like many people recommend the product or website, even though that isn’t true at all.
The page can also be used to gather information about users. That information may even provide a way for people to find out more critical personal data, including credit card numbers and passwords.
While there are many scams on Facebook, they can be avoided by using a little common sense and a few simple rules. Don’t ever give people your financial details or wire them money. Break off contact with any romance or new friendship if they start to ask for money – no matter how believable the story is.
You can also use two-factor authentication when you log in to Facebook. This approach means that you’re asked to confirm any login attempts from unknown devices and locations. An attacker couldn’t gain access to your account even if they had the username and password.
Facebook is continuing to make changes to target these scams, such as demoting posts that use engagement-baiting techniques and focusing more strongly on identity verification. Even so, your safety is ultimately in your hands. Scammers tend to find ways around any change that a program makes.
Have you been scammed on Facebook? Tell us your story in the comments.