How to spot and avoid Facebook scams
04 May 2020
Just like callers pretending to be from your bank, or hoax messages from strangers on WhatsApp, Facebook is also used as a way to defraud you of your money. You post a lot of personal information on Facebook which scammers would love to abuse, and they have numerous ways to part you from your hard-earned cash.
How scammers target you on Facebook
Facebook has over a billion users each month. It uses powerful software to identify groups of users based on shared interests or characteristics (like age or location) in order to suggest harmless content and adverts that the group may find attractive.
This makes the social network ideal for fraudsters wishing to find large numbers of people to target for fraudulent activity, and to identify vulnerable people or specific groups with appealing offers that are too good to be true.
Once you’ve clicked on a scam ad or message, you and your connections are more likely to be targeted again with similar fraudulent material.
Scams sent from Facebook friends or fan pages
Scam artists leverage the trust that you have in your friends, in popular brands or in social network founder Mark Zuckerberg by impersonating them on Facebook. For example, a recent Facebook impersonation scam used the public image of MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis on adverts to persuade people to make ‘investments’. In reality, Martin Lewis never runs adverts. People fell for the con because they trust Martin Lewis, and the scammers knew that.
Be wary of anyone, including friends, who message you out of the blue asking you to click on a link, or invest money in a get rich quick scheme. It’s worth covering your back and checking with the person or company directly to make sure it isn’t a scammer contacting you. You can do this by phoning the friend to check that it is really them writing to you, or by checking the company’s website to ensure that the deal is really from them.
How scammers can use your Facebook profile
Lots of the personal information that fraudsters need to steal your identity can be found on your Facebook profile. For example, your name, date of birth and address are enough in some cases to access your bank accounts, take out loans or take out mobile phone contracts in your name.
To minimise your exposure to this type of scam, check and update your privacy settings on Facebook. (Remember, a public profile can be viewed by anyone.) Take down photos and posts on your wall that may give away valuable personal information.
Example Facebook scams and how to protect yourself
Got a message from a stranger, brand or friend telling you you’ve won a competition that you don’t recall entering? They may say that to redeem your prize, you’ll need to make a small initial payment. Once you make this, you’ll probably be asked for more, always with an elaborate story to accompany the request for cash.
If this happens to you, it’s best not to reply the initial message. If in doubt, call the friend to check that the message is legitimate. Or, check on the company’s website to see whether the competition is legitimate, and how winners will be contacted. If it’s not legitimate, report it to Facebook, and block the person contacting you.
Also be wary of competitions to win brilliant prizes that are set up by pages which are very new, or not the official brand page. They often ask you to like and share the competition to enter. At first these posts seem pretty harmless, but by clicking the ‘Like’ button, these scammers may now be able to see information they might not have been able to see before, such as your phone numbers. Some scammers sell this information on the black market.
Fake offers of products and services
Ads, messages or content in your timeline about miracle diet pills and physical enhancers are often too good to be true. Recent scams also include mainstream products such as t-shirts, concert tickets and even car insurance, where cash is paid but no product or service is received.
To protect yourself from these scams:
- Only buy from sources that you trust. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t go through with it.
- Check that any ticket sellers are members of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers
- Check whether similar activity has been reported on the police ActionFraud website.
- Ask to speak to the seller on the phone, on video chat or in person. It can be easier to dissemble in text-based communication like email or social media rather than on the phone or in person.
- Rather than paying by bank transfer into the seller’s account, ask for a payment option such as PayPal, which may offer you more protection if it turns out to be a scam.
- Use a credit card rather than a debit card for online transactions over £100 as you’ll get Section 75 protection in the event that it turns out to be a scam.
- Before entering payment card details on a website, ensure that the payment website is secure: The web address should begin with ‘https://’, and display a padlock icon. Note - this doesn’t mean the website it legitimate, but that your online payment is protected.
Men in their 20s are more likely to be targeted by certain scams in this category, such as car insurance scams on Facebook. Learn how young drivers can get the best car insurance deal and reduce your premiums.
Fake profiles used for online dating
If you receive a friend request from a stranger, think twice before accepting. Several fraudulent online dating relationships begin this way, and lead to one party requesting cash from the other as part of an elaborate and emotive story.
To protect yourself:
- Change your settings so that you do not have a public profile.
- Check through your friend list and unfriend or block any profiles that you don’t trust.
- If you’re already communicating with someone on Facebook, ask to speak to them on video chat or in person, with someone accompanying you. Don’t pay for their travel costs.
A particularly nasty scam involves you receiving a message from a stranger suggesting that they have filmed you using your webcam, and that you need to pay to keep the footage secret.
If this happens to you:
- don’t click any of the links in it or open any attachments
- report the threatening message to Facebook
- block the person from messaging you using the block button at the top of the message.
Fake media content
This type of scam is often hard to identify, as it can be a vague message about a technical topic. For example, an article, message or ad saying that your computer may be infected, or warning you about the next big thing in financial investments. It will then ask you for cash to resolve a problem or to invest in something.
To protect yourself from these scams, if you don’t understand what you’re giving money to, don’t go through with it. Remember that anyone can put adverts or content on Facebook. Go directly to an expert website on the topic, or to a larger news outlet, to check the information.
You can protect yourself online generally by keeping current on software updates on your web browser.
How to report a suspected Facebook scam
Facebook has recently put more resources into weeding out scams. You can report suspicious content to Facebook directly.
- If you see a suspicious message, report it to Facebook (Opens in a new window) by tapping the ‘Something’s Wrong’ button.
- If you received a suspicious email supposedly from Facebook, forward it firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If an email or post looks strange report it to Facebook (Opens in a new window), don’t click any of the links in it or open any attachments.
- If someone’s bothering you, you can block, report, ignore or delete their messages
- If you suspect that an account is fake or impersonating someone, report it (Opens in a new window)
- If you’ve received suspicious notifications, you can learn more about how to identify and report them
If you’ve been the victim of scam and have sent money, then straight away call your bank and get the payments stopped. Report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use Action Fraud's reporting tool (Opens in a new window)