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What is Social Engineering?

In today’s digital centric world, social media apps like Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp are used by over a billion people. Whenever you have so many users flocking to these popular social media platforms, you also have a virtual goldmine for scammers. Scammers only need to “hook” a small fraction of these masses of social media platform users in order to rake in the big bucks! Their scams often leave victims financial lives in ruin as they separate them from their hard-earned money. Since the victim is fooled into cooperating with the scam and taking an active part in perpetrating the activity, victims are often left financially and legally liable for the loss as opposed to their financial institution. To make matters worse, these scammers are rarely ever caught and stolen funds seldom recovered. For most victims, these scams leave them embarrassed and broke. The only solution is not to be a victim!

Now that I have your attention, let’s look at the common practices that scammers use to steal your money or personal information.

  • All scammers use what’s called “social engineering” in order to motivate your behavior. In other words, scammers misrepresent themselves to fool you into doing something that benefits them. Pay attention to unsolicited messages and if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true!
  • Scammers often use tactics that prey upon your emotions in order to influence your behavior and get you to contradict your own best judgement. Examples of this are “sweetheart” scams where scammers pretend to be romantically interested in their victim only to ask for money once trust is established. Other examples of this are messages that tell you that a valued product or service will be cancelled unless you click on a link or respond in some desired way. They may pose as a potential employer with a work-at-home job, a bank offering you an amazing loan, or perhaps promise fast cash for your information or bank account login credentials. Do not let your emotions carry you away! Think first and verify any offers that you may receive with the actual company or financial institution purported to be contacting you.
  • Scammers generally want one or more of the following; your money, your banking login credentials so they may access your financial accounts, your personal information in order to sell or commit identity theft, or to get you to click on a link that may actually be a phishing site or used to install malware on your device.

Now that you know how scammers operate and what they are after, let’s review some of the top scams that are currently trending.

  • FREE STUFF…One of the most common scams involves the offer of free or wildly discounted products and services. For example, some recent scams involve the offer of free Adidas shoes, free flights from Aer Lingus and Southwest Airlines, sharply discounted product vouchers, or special services like WhatsApp Gold (No such thing as WhatsApp Gold). Most of these scams are designed to either steal your personal information or login credentials via a phishing site or install malware on your device. So, don’t click on that link!
  • Cancellation or Renewal of Services & Password Resets – These scams involve messaging that tells you that a valued service is being cancelled for some reason or perhaps your password for a coveted service mysteriously needs to be reset. These types of scams are also generally designed to either steal your personal information or login credentials via a phishing site or by installing malware on your device.
  • Financial Institutions / Banks – These scams involve scammers posing as banking officials offering loans, other too good to be true financial products, collect on a debt that you don’t owe, or some other ominous account warning. We have even seen circumstances where the scammer will send pics of false employee ID credentials in order to establish trust with victims. These scams are designed to steal your banking and personal information and ultimately your money! Always conduct business with reputable institutions via verifiable channels and don’t be afraid to directly verify any suspicious message, email, or telephone call with the actual financial institution.
  • Get Rich Quick $$$ – I see these types of scams all the time! Victims report being contacted by a fraudster promising fast money if the victim will deposit checks into their bank account whereas the victim is then asked to send some portion of the funds back to the fraudster via Western Union, MoneyGram, or some other similar method. While the victim believes they have come into a financial windfall, they later discover that the checks they deposited into their bank account were ultimately returned and now they are left with a negative balance for which they are responsible for repaying. Other common versions of this scam are fake work-from-home scams and overpayment scams. The bottom line is that if it’s too good to be true, it’s not true! Do not ever give out your online or mobile banking credentials to anyone! Do not send monies via payment services to any unknown persons or in lieu of receiving/depositing checks into your account.
  • Will you Marry Me? – Romance scams are as old as time itself and have now moved into the digital space. These scams involve the scammer posing as a legitimate love interest in order to establish trust with the victim. Once they have the victim’s confidence, the scammer generally offers up a “story” in order to get the victim to send them money. I have met victims that swear to me that their new boyfriend or girlfriend whom they’ve met online, but never seen in person, is the real thing and no matter how much evidence I show them, they refuse to believe me only to end up with a broken heart and bank account.

These are some of the common scams that fraudsters use to bilk money from their unsuspecting victims. Don’t become a victim! Slow down and think twice if you suspect that a social media message, an email, or telephone call is suspicious.

Here are some ways that you can help protect yourself against social media scams.

  • Regulate your Privacy Settings & Contacts – Actively manage your privacy settings on all social media! Only accept requests from individuals that you know and limit the amount of people who can see your information to as few as possible.
  • Avoid Dangerous and Sensational Links – Offers that are too good to be true, fast cash, sensational news headlines, deep retail discounts, etc. Don’t click on that link! If there is a link that you believe to be legit, then always check the source of the link before you proceed.
  • Don’t Make it Easy for Scammers – Do not post any personal information that can be misused by others. Never post things like your date of birth, your social security number, mother’s maiden name, full address, etc. Also, avoid social networking content that asks you for personal information, and do not ever give your password away!
  • Do not Engage in Financial Transactions via Social Media – Do not send money electronically to people you do not know! Do not transmit your banking information or personal information for “alleged” loan offers, quick cash, or other such transactions.
  • Update Firmware & Use Security Software – Always ensure that your device is updated with the latest firmware. This helps reduce the likelihood of malware and what’s referred to as “zero-day attacks”. It’s also recommended that you use anti-virus and security apps on all of your devices and PC’s that are set to run regular scans.
  • Be Vigilant & Security Aware! – Delete any old apps that you are not using, be aware of phishing scams, don’t use the same password over multiple accounts, always use 2-factor authentication (Set up 2-factor authentication immediately on all financial accounts where available), and only do business with known parties through reputable and verifiable transaction channels.

Authored by Peter T. from Partners