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Fraud Facts: Scammers keeping up with social media

As sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have become increasingly popular, hackers and scam artists have taken notice. According to the sites themselves, collectively they boast over 1.7 billion users. Even if a small percentage fall victim, the impact could be enormous.

James Marasco

James Marasco


The biggest scams that threaten Facebook users are those that trick you into installing applications and programs that harvest personal information. These tempting schemes usually show up in your News Feed and solicit some sort of response. Some of the most popular ones include:

–  419 Nigerian scams – these schemes have been around for decades and have been perpetrated through telephone, mail, fax and now the Internet. Scam artists try to fool victims to give them money by indicating that they have inherited a large bequest, lottery winnings, etc. In order to collect it, a fee or percentage needs to be remitted first. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know regardless of what they are offering. If an opportunity drops out of the sky and sounds too good to be true, it is.

–  Viral videos – if you see a tempting advertisement for a scandalous celebrity video, be careful. Some of these scams will immediately ask to update your media player once it’s clicked on. After the download commences, a virus is installed and the scam can spread to your friends. If you’re tempted to see the “video,” Google it or go directly to YouTube or another legitimate site and try searching for it. It’s safer not to download anything directly from Facebook. It may not be legitimate.

–  Free giveaways – Have you ever seen the offers of free iPads, iPhones or an Xbox? The catch is you need to fill out a survey. These scams trick victims into providing hackers with personal information or into downloading a malicious file. Bogus charges could occur on your phone bill by providing your cell number. Avoid these scams by passing on their tempting offer. Most companies aren’t giving away free products through Facebook. Try going to the organization’s website or their own Facebook page to see if the same offer is being made.

–  Custom profiles – Another popular online scam involves offers to change your Facebook layout or color by downloading an application. Once that’s complete, hackers gain access to your system. Beware of offers to change your layout.

n  Learn who viewed your profile – Scammers tempt victims by offering an application that allows Facebook users to see who has viewed their profile. They offer a link or application that can facilitate this process. Of course it’s false and once the bait is taken, a virus is unleashed on the victim’s system. According to Facebook, they do not allow users to see who has reviewed their profile.


Some of the greatest threats related to LinkedIn involve fraudulent invites and fake profiles from data thieves. As their level of sophistication has grown, it has become increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction.

Fake profiles

Scammers are creating fake profiles using hijacked photos from legitimate profiles in a ruse designed to harvest critical information from people to perpetrate identity theft or introduce malware to your system. The false profiles are usually designed around human resource professionals or recruiters who are offering attractive employment opportunities. Once they gain the trust of unknowing victims, they start to ask for more detailed information or offer links to transmit files.

Spotting a bogus profile takes some due diligence. To validate whether a photo is attached to the right person, you could search the Internet. While using Google Chrome, simply right click on the picture and “search Google for this image.” See how many people come up. Also, look for obvious misspellings or poorly constructed grammar. Scammers are creating tons of fake profiles and may lose attention to detail. They may not even be from the U.S.

On the flip side, they may also be plagiarizing. If their background summary looks a little too polished, try running a sentence or two through a search engine to see if additional profiles emerge. Independently check the company they appear to represent. Hastily created profiles usually only have one employer listed under Job Experience and may not have anything listed under Skills. Under Education, look for degrees that don’t match the colleges they attended.

Everyone using LinkedIn is assigned a number, which is found in your profile link. Since LinkedIn is reporting that they have nearly 400 million users, you can easily see where someone ranks in terms of when they joined. If someone purports to be an active professional with years of experience, but has a number that was recently issued, be careful.

False Invites

While fake profiles are intended to trick key information out of people, false invites are more immediate in their approach. As a matter of caution, don’t accept invites from unfamiliar people. Furthermore, don’t accept invites directly from email, even from people you know. Once an email invite is received, login into your LinkedIn account and review the invite (if it’s there) and accept it once you’re comfortable with the individual. Scammers send professional looking invites via email to entice victims to click on a fraudulent link that infects their system with malware.

Social media has been a boon to connecting people and a real asset for business professionals. Unfortunately, scammers are using it to their advantage perpetrating a host of schemes. Most people may never encounter an issue like these noted. However, it pays to be cautious. If you encounter problems, report them to the sites themselves so they can take the appropriate action.

James I. Marasco, CPA, CIA, CFE, is a partner at EFP Rotenberg LLP, Certified Public Accountants and Business Consultants

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