Here we are with the third and final installment in our “How to Spot a Social Media Scam a Mile Away” series. So far we have covered some of the most prominent social media platforms and the scams that people fall for on a regular basis therein. Today we will look at three platforms that may not jump to mind when you hear the term “social media” but they have tons of users, and therefore many, many scams associated with them.
WhatsApp – WhatsApp is the incredibly fun, cross-platform (and desktop) version of SMS. This free-to-use messaging platform was bought by Facebook in 2014 for a whopping $19 billion and whether or not it’s a true social media platform is up for debate, it’s all a matter of semantics in the end – so let’s put it this way – WhatsApp has over 1 billion users and is second only to their parent company, Facebook, in messaging apps. So regardless of it’s “yes social media/no social media” status, it’s a behemoth, with huge amounts of users and data – and scammers know that very well.
WhatsApp has had more than a few hacks and scams associated with it since its inception in 2009. A recent scam from this past February spread malware by way of legitimate-looking links integrated into conversations. The malicious link blends in perfectly with the conversation loop and appears to be coming from your friend. Clicking the link directs users to “coupon” websites, offering 15% off purchase at Banana Republic, H&M and other retailers. Can you guess what happens next? Sure you can! Now you get to a page where you have to fill out your personal details. You dutifully fill out your details and the website begins to download malware to your device. And remember? They have your personal details, too!
In another WhatsApp scam that recently surfaced, scammers sent emails to users, alerting them to missed calls and messages. To retrieve the messages a user clicks a link, and you already know the punchline – the link directs the users not to their “missed calls” but rather to a website brimming with malware. Can we get some creativity here, please?
Then there are the many chain-letter scams, purportedly from WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton themselves, informing users that WhatsApp has too many users, or is going to start charging or is closing down, and to stop this from happening you need to forward the message to 10 contacts… Um, since when did sending 10 SMS’s ever stop a company from shutting down or charging you for something?? Answer: Never. True, in the chain letter scam, as of yet there doesn’t seem to be any malicious payload associated but you sure will look silly when you beg your contacts to “SAVE WHATSAPP!”
What can you do? Don’t open links in WhatsApp messages unless it’s very transparent who the sender is and avoid all messages that claim you have won a prize or lottery or a baby gorilla. Links that direct to coupons are also almost always ill-intentioned so keep away. Also make sure you know any contact requests you approve.
Skype – Okay, so let’s hear the question one more time… “Is Skype really considered social media? “ Well if you define social media as any platform that connects people and ideas, allows users to share files and pictures, can be used to send texts and to make regular and video calls to multiple people at the same time, thus fulfilling many of the same functions as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, then Skype surely qualifies.
And in terms of scams, boy oh boy, does Skype ever qualify. That there are so many scams on the platform shouldn’t be very surprising. Just think about it. Social media + live video = a whole lot of room to confuse, confuddle and blackmail people.
A good deal of scams on the platform start out on dating sites and move their way over to the video platform. The scammer then uses those videos and dating information to blackmail the victim, usually to the tune of $650 or thereabouts. Extortion is really bad, and oh, just happens to be punishable by law so the scammers could technically get in big trouble. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to stop them from running the same scam, time and time again.
Another relatively common scam on the platform is, lo and behold, the quintessential grandaddy of all scams… The Nigerian 419 scam. If perchance you’ve been living under a rock, say like forever, Nigerian 419 scams, that tend to come from scammers based in, you guessed it, Nigeria, have been around since the days of snail mail and worked their way from one technology platform to the next, migrating from pen and paper letters to faxes to email and now they are waiting for you on Skype.
They way it works is this – You get a Skype request to connect with someone and they send you a Skype chat message stating that they are the representative of someone who just died in an devastating earthquake somewhere in Africa. You just happen to have the same last name as the deceased (because there are just so many Rodrigues and Joneses living in Nigeria…but we digress) so they want to give the money to you! They say they want to set up a video call to discuss the details. What they really want to to see if you’re as gullible as they hope you are.
As you can plainly guess, if you do have that meeting, well a) you are pretty gullible and b) you won’t ever see the money in your account, but they will see your money in their account.
Then there are the more common malicious link-based scams that invite you to check out coupons that harbor malware in addition to email-based Skype scams that purport to be notifications of delayed messages. To find out more about the delay you have to click the link… You know the rest of the story.
What can you do? If you suspect a link to be malicious, an email to be a spoof, or a message to be a scam on Skype, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Skype is owned by Microsoft now and they attempt to take spam/spoof/scam complaints seriously. Now is a good time to make sure you have a solid antimalware software like RCS running to keep you safe from all those dangerous links.
Tumblr – Tumblr is basically a cross between a social media platform and a blog. It allows users to post blog-like posts and follow other bloggers and repost their posts to their own board as well. Think of it as “blogging meets Facebook meets Pinterest”. The site, bought by Yahoo! in 2015 for $1.1 billion is uber-popular with millennials but seems to have problems filtering inappropriate content so if your teen tells you that he is starting a blog on say, rock salt formations, perhaps lead him to take his blogging aspirations over to WordPress.com.
Not surprisingly, Tumblr also has had a large share of its own scams. Recently many users received emails supposedly coming from Tumblr, encouraging them to play “The Tumblr dating game”. All it lead them to was an unassociated dating website that seemed to be attempting to pull off a money making rouse. Then there was the recent TumViewer scam. The TumViewer app was packaged as an app to help users see who had looked at their page. In reality it was simply directing users to a survey that attempts to harvest sensitive information on users to be used in identity fraud scams later on. At the same time a scam called the Online Income Solution made its rounds on the site, which again, asked people to fill out personal information in exchange for receiving information about work-at-home jobs.
What can you do? First off, be wary of any work-at-home “opportunities”, they are usually not in your best interest on Tumblr or on any other platform for that matter. And stay away from third-party apps that claim to optimize other platforms – generally speaking, they are not in it for you either – all they really want is a chance to access your accounts. If there is a third-party app you are just dying for, do your due research regarding its safety/security track record before you install.
Well there ya go, this concludes our series on how to spot social media scams. But the sad truth is that scammers are savvy and change their methods all the time. The most important tool you have to stay safe is your very own brain. Treat it nicely and never turn it off, because it’s your very best defense mechanism against creeps in this ever changing world.
Stay safe, everybody!