Welcome to the dark side of social networking. This certainly includes genealogists and family historians.

Cybercriminals, virus writers and others, always go were the numbers are and that translates big time to social media sites.  About 175 million people rely on social media for multiple reasons and  I can understand why the many warnings issued appear to go unnoticed.

Just to help and remind people to be aware of the dangers, here’s a list of five common social media scams:

1. Hidden URLs
There’s an increasing number of shortened URLs, you’ll often see them on Twitter. The problem is that you’ll  never know where you’re going since it hides the full location. If you click on this type of link you could be connected to the intended site or, you could be directed to one that installs all sorts of malware on your computer. Again, it’s all about  numbers, popular sites are bound to lure in a criminal element as well as honest participants. Beware, therefore, of blindly clicking on shortened URLs.

2. Phishing Requests

“Somebody just put up these pictures of you at this wild party! Check them out  by clicking on the link!” Me? It can’t be, I don’t go to wild parties, but  let me  just take a look. You immediately click on the enclosed link, which takes you to your Twitter or Facebook login page.  Then you enter your account info and a cybercriminal now has your password, along with total control of your account.

Of course, both the email and landing page were fakes. That link you clicked took you to a page that looked like your social site, but wasn’t. This is called phishing, and you’ve just been had. To prevent this, make sure your Internet security includes anti-phishing defenses. Many freeware programs don’t include this protection, so be sure to invest in adequate protection. I recently received three emails from a friend with no subject in the subject line and, as you know this is quite common. I do have anti-phishing protection and the system warned me right away.

3. Hidden Charges
“What’s your favorite color? Learn what it reveals about your character with our quiz.  All of your friends have taken it!” So, as instructed, you enter your info and cell number.  After a few minutes, a text turns up. It turns out you’re more leader than follower.  Well, that’s interesting, but not as interesting as your next month’s cell bill will be. You’ve also just unwittingly subscribed to some dubious service that charges $8.98 a month. This is called a bait-and-switch, which tends to thrive on social sites. How many times have people said that they’d never fall for something like this—it happens to the best of us and comes in different forms.  If you order online and at the end of the transaction you sometimes get a message that might say, “Save $10 on your next order”. Make sure that you’re aware of what you might be agreeing to just to save that $1o.

4. Cash Grabs
By their very nature, social media sites make it easy for us to stay in touch with friends, while reaching out to meet new ones. Think about how well you know these new acquaintances? That person with the attractive profile picture who just befriended you, who suddenly needs money, is probably some cybercriminal looking for easy cash. Think very carefully before acting. In fact, the same advice applies even if you know the person.

This will remind you of a much publicized scam last year.  A real friend just sent you an urgent request that he lost his wallet on vacation and needs some cash to get home. And, being the reliable friend that you are, per his instructions,  you send some money right away. Here’s the problem–Your friend never sent this request. In fact, he isn’t even aware of it. His malware-infected computer grabbed all of his contacts and forwarded the bogus email to everyone, waiting to see who would bite.

Be sure to call your friend and make sure he sent the request and, if it wasn’t your friend, make sure your computer isn’t infected too.

5. Chain Letters
I just know you’ve seen this one before — the dreaded chain letter has returned. It may appear in the form of, “Forward this to as many people as possible and Bill Gates will donate $5 million to charity” Wait!  Bill Gates already does a lot for charity, why wait for something like this to act? He wouldn’t. Why would someone do this? It could be some prankster looking for a laugh, or a spammer needing “friends” to hit up later. Many well-meaning people pass these fake claims onto others. Break the chain and inform them of the likely ruse. People hijack emails for various well-meaning reasons.  Don’t do it.

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2 Comments on Welcome to the dark side of social networking: Social media scams

  1. J. Forbes says:

    This is a great reminder. Thank you for this post. Even if you’re a savvy individual you can get trapped in one of these scenarios.

  2. Jeanne C. says:

    Hi Sandy, I’m not a genealogist, but managed to find this post. It’s excellent. Too often we depend on social media and therein lies the trap. Your site look great even for a non-genealogy buff.

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