Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Risks of Social Media Phishing

Whether you have ever heard of phishing or not, anyone who spends much time online is vulnerable to having their private information stolen and misused.  Nearly half of Americans over the age of 65, and two-thirds of those between the ages of 50 and 64 are on Facebook.  Many are also on other social media sites, such as Twitter.  As long as most of us stick to sharing photos of our grandkids and staying in touch with friends, we have very few problems ... especially if we keep track of our privacy settings and make sure that the majority of what we share is for "friends only."

However, a large number of people play games, enter contests, or answer questionnaires and surveys on social media.  While most of those programs are innocent, some of them are "phishing" for your personal information so they can steal your identity.  If they ask you for your credit card information, you may be putting your accounts at risk.

According to an article in the July-August 2016 AARP Bulletin, "Staying Safe and Secure on Social Media" by Sid Kirchheimer, below are some of the more common ways you can run into trouble on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Social Media Scams to Avoid

Using Twitter to contact a company's customer service department - Phony companies, with names which are similar to legitimate companies such as banks and credit card companies, have computer programs that lurk our accounts online and watch for complaints and messages that show up on Twitter.  When they spot one, they quickly respond and direct you to send your complaints to a phony website.  Once you enter your log-in information and account number on their website, they can steal your account information and use it or sell it.  You may never even know that you sent your "complaint" to a phony company that stole your information.

Clicking on websites promoted on social media because they offer access to live-streaming games, concerts and other events - These sites often offer a "free trial" of their service and ask for a credit card number.  While these phony companies typically say you can cancel their service anytime after the free trial ends, they sometimes begin to charge your credit card monthly ... and it can be difficult to get them to stop.

Signing up on social media for free gifts or discounts which will be mailed or emailed to you - They may try to appeal to you by offering free cosmetics and samples, or they could offer you access to photos or "secrets" about celebrities.  These are often attempts to get you to give them your name, address, phone numbers, email address and, in some cases, your credit card information to pay for "shipping and handling." Once you have given this information to them, they may sell it on the black market.  Meanwhile, you will quickly discover that the "deals" either don't exist or come with strings attached.  Recently, I experimented with an offer of four Disneyland passes.  Not only did they want all my personal information, but they also wanted me to send them the email addresses of 15 of my friends.  Wisely, I did not do it.

Contest and survey scams - These are similar to the free gift or discount scams.  However, in addition to your name, address and account information, they may also try to trick you into giving them even more personal information by asking questions in their surveys about your job, income, spending habits and purchases you plan to make in the future.  I have noticed that some of these types of scams can be very tricky.  For example, they might have names such as "what kind of flower are you?" and then ask a lot of personal information ... such as your favorite color, what you would buy with $1000, etc.  They frequently ask for permission to access your Facebook account so they can "analyze" the information.  When these scammers combine your Facebook account information to the answers you gave on the survey, they can obtain more information than you realize.

How to Stay Safe on Social Media

The best way to avoid these potential problems is to stick to your main reason for being on social media ... socializing with people you actually know.

Limit the number of "friends" you have on Facebook to people you trust.

Check your privacy settings on Facebook to make sure your posts are visible to "Friends only."  You can change the setting of individual posts, if you have a reason to.   

Don't use Facebook or Twitter to contact corporations ... go directly to their websites, instead.  This is especially true when you are contacting your bank or credit card company.

If an advertised product interests you, make sure you are purchasing it through a legitimate site, such as Amazon.com, or the website of a major store, such as Macys.com, Target.com or Walmart.com.  Avoid shopping at unfamiliar companies or clicking on ads which contain misspellings or other indications that they may not be legitimate.  (That is why most of the ads on this blog are from either Amazon.com or Google.  I want my readers to be comfortable knowing that the companies which advertise here are legitimate.  Too bad some of the social media sites are not as careful about who is allowed to buy ads on their sites.)

Don't make purchases from companies you know nothing about unless you check them out first through the Better Business Bureau or similar services. 

Don't give out personal information on social media by answering surveys ... even if they seem harmless.  Keep your personal information private.

Be careful about releasing your credit card information.  Before you make a purchase, you should be convinced that the company is legitimate.

If you are interested in more information about retirement, financial planning, where to retire, common medical problems, health, safety and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

You are reading from the blog:  http://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com

Photo of cat with computer is property of author, Deborah Dian; all rights reserved.

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