Safety

How to protect yourself from online scams

By:

January 3, 2024

The online world keeps us connected, but it’s also full of scammers. We’ve got tips for staying safe.

Social media helps us stay digitally connected to our favorite communities and to people we don’t see regularly. It also helps us celebrate the milestones of friends and family and commiserate with others about life’s difficult moments. However, the internet has its drawbacks, especially online scams. Scammers frequently target people of all ages for money, using various strategies. But you can take steps to protect yourself and your family online.

People in the United States lost $10.2 billion to online fraud in 2022, according to the FBI. That’s compared to $6.9 billion in 2021. The number of cyberattack complaints in 2022 totaled nearly 900,000. However, online scams often go unreported, so the problem is likely even more widespread. Although scams work via websites, apps, pop-up ads and more, the most common place for cyber scams is on social media, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

What can you do? We’ve got tips for helping you stay safe on social media and elsewhere online so you don’t fall prey to scams.

Cloned social media accounts

One of the most common online scams on social media involves someone impersonating someone you may know. For example, you might receive a friend request from your aunt, but you’re already connected to your aunt on social media. In this case, a scammer has stolen the social media identity of your relative, made a duplicate account, and is “friending you.” Once you accept such a friend request, the person may try to con you by claiming to need financial help.

You can stop these scammers in their tracks. Anytime you receive a friend request, check to see if you’re already friends with the person on the social media platform. If you are, then the friend request is likely coming from a scammer. Don’t accept the request.

You can also stop scammers from using your account to scam others. First, search for your name in the social media app. If you have a common name, you may see other accounts with your same name. However, if an account appears to be using your profile picture, the holder is likely a scammer. Report the account to the social media app.

‘Romance’ scams

Romance scams are another common cybercrime. Scammers create a fake account and target someone on social media by being attentive, affectionate and flirtatious. The scammer makes excuses as to why they currently can’t meet in person. Eventually, the scammer asks for money to help with an emergency. The fraud escalates from there.

You can help keep yourself safe from romance online scams by not accepting friend requests from people you’ve never met. Additionally, you can review the person’s profile. Often these scammers have basic photos, few posts and a small number of friends or followers. You can also check their public records via a service such as BeenVerified. Finally, never give money to someone you don’t know.

Additional tips for staying safe online

  • Change your privacy settings. Make your social media profile visible to only friends and family. And hide your list of connections.
  • Change your password often. Don’t use common words or passwords that are easily hacked, such as birth dates or pet names.
  • Pause before clicking. Avoid accepting or opening suspicious direct messages or post links.
  • Don’t take quizzes or answer “fun” questions. Posts often circulate asking you for the make and model of your first car, the first concert you attended, or the city where you were born. These are the same types of questions websites use to keep your password secure. Your answers could be used to hack an account. Note that these posts may come from friends and family who’ve unwittingly answered the questions and are getting others to join in.
  • Listen to your gut. If you suspect something is fishy, it probably is.
  • Be wary of sudden and intense romantic attention. This is a red flag for romance scams.
  • Report suspicious activity. You can report suspicious activity to the social media platform where it occurred and to the Federal Trade Commission.