Who needs a class reunion when you can just catch up with old friends on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook? Social networking is a great way to connect with friends and colleagues, but it’s also a way criminals acquire information to lure people into scams. The best protection? A healthy dose of skepticism. Here are 8 social media scams to avoid and how to spot them.
1. Card-Cracking Scams
This scam, also known as “card popping,” is on the rise. Fraudsters use social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook to run ads or contact victims directly via private message or text. They promise “legitimate ways to make thousands of dollars—fast.” They may even pose as bank officials, and military members, students, new parents and bank customers are some of their favorite targets.
How does it work? These scammers offer to pay potential victims money if they’ll allow checks to be run through their bank accounts. Then they request bank account information, the use of debit cards and even PINs. They’ll use reassurances like, “I need your info to deposit the check.” Then the scammers make out with money from victims’ accounts, apply for credit in their names or both. Some red flags to watch for:
- You’re asked for account or card numbers, PINs, Social Security Number or other personal information
- You’re told to confirm that the transactions are legitimate if your bank contacts you. FYI, if you confirm the transaction when it wasn’t, you could be held liable.
- You’re told to report your debit card lost or stolen
- You’re asked to transfer funds to a third party via direct transfer, Western Union, ACH or Zelle®
2. Credit Repair Scams
Have you ever seen an ad that promises you a new credit identity? Many of these ads guarantee they can get rid of negative credit information in your credit report, or that they can increase your credit score a specific number of points, but be careful. After receiving payment from your account, some of these companies may report all credit accounts, loans and inquiries in your name to the credit bureaus as fraudulent, even legitimate ones. That means you’d have to work with the credit bureaus and your financial institution to sort things out.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, be wary if a company:
- asks for your account number so they can “view your account”
- insists you pay them before they do any work for you
- tells you not to contact the credit reporting companies directly
- tells you to dispute information in your credit report—even if you know it's accurate
- tells you to give false information on your applications for credit or a loan
- doesn’t explain your legal rights when they tell you what they can do for you
If you’re looking for help repairing your credit, the U.S. Department of Justice publishes a list of approved credit counseling agencies by state.
3. Job Offer Scams
Who wouldn’t want to earn a lot of money quickly and with little effort? In scams like these, you’re contacted or see an advertisement on social media with an offer to “earn thousands” for “guaranteed income.” Once you respond or reach out, you’re asked to give personal information and pay a fee or buy a starter kit. You may be told, “We’ll need your bank account number so we can deposit your checks.” Through gradual back and forth communication, the scammer slowly tries to get you to trust them. Be suspicious of:
- guarantees you’ll earn lots of money for a simple task (e.g., envelope stuffing)
- work-from-home opportunities—while work-from-home jobs do exist, they're generally found through companies themselves, not social media sites
- vague descriptions of the job or what is required
- requirements to pay money for information or materials, especially via money order, wire transfer or preloaded gift card
- requests for personal information, especially bank account and identification details (e.g., Social Security Number, driver's license, passport)
Keep reminding yourself—if it’s “too good to be true,” it probably is.
4. Romance Scams
Sometimes known as “catfishing,” scammers set up fake accounts on social media or dating sites and apps to establish fraudulent relationships with legitimate site users. They string their victims along with promise of a relationship, but never seem to be able to meet in person. Once the relationship with the victim progresses, the scammer will ask for money or hint they’re having money troubles. You may hear something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have enough money for rent, and it’s due soon.” Once they have what they want, they disappear.
Be hyper vigilant about who you meet online and be wary of sending money to strangers.
5. Profile Hacking Scams
In these instances, a fraudster will use a hacked social media account and instant message people in the victim's network, posing as the victim. They might ask for money to be wired and promise to pay it back. Always verify these requests by speaking directly to the person who’s supposedly sending the message. If you can't contact them directly, verify what you're being told with friends or others who are close to the person in question.
6. Money Flipping
Seeing a message that you can “earn 10 times what you invested” sounds great, but is it true? ZeroFox, a social media security company, found that scammers often use Instagram and other networks to target military members, bank customers and others with promises of enormous profits in exchange for a small investment. Be alert to military- or bank-specific hashtags or teasers like #fastcash and #money. Don’t believe the “I can’t believe it really works!” testimonial posts. If someone tries to rush you into a choice by saying you have a limited time to act, just say no.
7. Sweepstakes, Lottery and Prize Scams
According to a recent study by the Better Business Bureau, these scams are the most serious and the most common. Victims are told they’ve won money, but they need to pay a fee, usually by wire transfer, to receive their winnings. If you find yourself facing something that sounds like one of these scams, the BBB suggests that you:
- don’t pay money to claim a prize
- research the official website and call the lottery agency directly to see if you really won
8. Fake Charities
Powerful, touching images of people in need and victims of disasters abound on social media. They make us want to do something. Unfortunately, there are criminals who take advantage of people’s natural desire to help. Many put up fake websites after a natural disaster or impersonate celebrities with charities. However, what looks legitimate may not be. Always double-check the validity of a charity with one of these organizations:
- Internal Revenue Tax Exempt Organization Search
- The National Association of State Charity Officials
- National Association of Voluntary Organizations
If you want to stay safe from hackers and scammers, always be cautious about unsolicited “opportunities.” If you didn’t contact them first, there’s a good chance scammers are at the other end. Never give out your personal information and never give money to someone you don’t know.
Navy Federal will never ask for your account information via social media—ever. Any message you receive from us on social media will come from one of our official accounts and will only be in response to a comment you posted. Our official Navy Federal social media accounts are:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NavyFederal
- Twitter: @NavyFederal (https://twitter.com/navyfederal)
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/navyfederal
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/navy-federal-credit-union/
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.