Scrolling through Facebook is a daily ritual that consumes more of our time than we’d care to admit, and it’s starting to take up even more. The news has consistently reported that pandemic restrictions on social gatherings have led to a spike in social media usage, leading to the popularization of terms like “doomscrolling” to explain habits spiraling into compulsion—seemingly overnight.
Fraudsters have also taken note of our unhealthy increase in screen time. The Federal Trade Commission warns that they have seen three times the usual number of social media-based phishing scams this year: “People reported losing more than $117 million to this type of scam in just the first six months of 2020 compared to $134 million for all of 2019, according to the FTC’s latest Consumer Protection Data Spotlight.”
What are the most recent social media phishing scams?
According to the FTC release, scammers are focusing on three topics to steal information and money from victims: online shopping ads, coronavirus-related financial relief, and romance. The agency notes that online shopping scams are reported more often than any other type, but with so many Americans looking for work and feeling isolated, the other two are predictable.
While not included in this FTC report, you should also be on the lookout for scams involving the upcoming election. From fake campaign donation ads to conspiracy-theory promotion, it’s a good idea to avoid clicking on social media advertisements that pop up in your feed, full stop.
What can I do to avoid becoming a social media phishing scam victim?
The best way to keep your information and money safe from social media phishing scams is to avoid clicking on ads that populate your feed. Malicious ads can directly install malware or lead to a website that is designed to steal your information or, you guessed it, infect your device with a virus or spyware. That means building better online habits:
- Install security software
- Use unique, secure passwords
- Keep all applications up to date
- Avoid clicking online ads
- Visit trusted websites
Private messages sent through online platforms are the primary phishing tactic for scammers, from email and social media private messages to streaming services like Soundcloud (that last example comes from personal experience). Scammers put links and attachments in these messages that carry all the risk described above: malware, imposter websites, and social engineering opportunities.
Where have victims encountered these phishing ads?
Most social media platforms have seen these types of ads, but they’re more likely to appear on heavily-trafficked services. In fact, the FTC reports that “most of these consumers (94 percent) who identified the social media service in their complaint cited Facebook or Instagram as the platform they used.”
PII side bar: If you don’t already, it’s time to start thinking of your information—from what you post on social media to private financial and tax information—as money. Criminals do.
Stay safe, and have a happy Halloween! (I intend to stay away from social media entirely, instead spending my time with my family, Mary Shelley, Sir Christopher Lee, and Simon Belmont.)