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Beware of Social Media Scams

Social media is a great place to connect with friends and family. Unfortunately, it is also a great place for misinformation to run rampant, and it is a virtual treasure chest for cybercriminals to steal personal information. Over 25 million Canadians own a social media account, and more than 80% of the Canadian population is expected to be on social media by 2025.

Check out this roundup of common social media scams so you can network intelligently, spot misinformation, and stop its spread.

1. Misinformation

The classic saying of “Don’t believe everything you see on TV” applies neatly to “Don’t believe everything you read on social media.” There is a resurgence of false news reports circulating on social media surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccine. For example, 5G aiding the spread of the virus and the preventive properties of garlic are just two of the rumors about COVID-19.

Misinformation leads to chaos and is a major threat to public health. Before you reshare a post or article, it is great to take a few minutes to digest the message, determine if it is true, and ask yourself if friends and family would genuinely benefit if they heard the news it carries.

There are a few tell-tale signs of fake news posts. First, they often try to inspire extreme emotions, such as rage and indignation, to prompt people to share immediately. Next, fake news reports are frequently poorly written and vague about where they received their information. Always try to find the primary source for “facts.” In the case of COVID-19 news, all health tips should be sourced from a licensed medical professional.

If you are ever in doubt about the facts, especially when they deal with public health, do not share the post. Instead, leave the reporting to trained medical professionals. Consult the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada or direct your network to #ScienceUpFirst for the latest and most accurate reports about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

2. Data Leaks

There was a recent data leak at Facebook, and the contents of about half a billion accounts were posted on a hacking website, including 3.49 million Canadian accounts. Hackers can get a lot of mileage out of just one social media profile because it contains all the greatest hits of information needed to verify an identity.

Most profiles list your real full name, birthday, your relationship status, your hometown, and contact information. Also, hackers can skim a user’s posting history to find even more personal details. Many social media users have posted at one time or another a “get to know you” post, where they list many revealing facts. These posts are a pot of gold to cybercriminals. They are basically lists of possible answers to security questions: Where did you go to primary school? What was the model of your first car? What is the name of your favorite stuffed animal?

Another recent trend that can make you vulnerable in case of a data leak is posting COVID-19 vaccine cards. Social media users are excited to share the big milestone of getting their first shot. What they might not realize is that vaccine cards contain vital personal information that could be used by malicious actors. There are alternative ways to share the happy news. Instead, post a picture of the fun bandage the nurse put on your arm or take a selfie outside of the vaccination center.

It is a shame that what you share on social media can be turned against you by cybercriminals, but that does not mean you have to stop sharing details about your life. Instead of posting personal details online that could be used maliciously in the event of a data leak, think about creating an exclusive email newsletter or secure group chat for your closest friends and family.

3. Contest Scams

There is a major thrill when you think you have won something; however, if you receive a notification on social media that you have won a contest, reserve your excitement until you have confirmed its legitimacy. Be especially wary if you do not remember entering a contest.

Contest scams are a type of social engineering tactic used by cybercriminals. Social engineering relies on people’s tendency to trust others. Cybercriminals often capitalize upon extreme emotions, like fear, urgency, and in this case excitement, to trick unsuspecting people into hastily giving up sensitive information.

Phishing is also common in contest scams. Social media users may receive a message that they have won a giveaway and to click on a link to claim their prize. Luckily, easy-to-spot signs of a phishing message include poor grammar, misspellings, and a sense of urgency. Always approach these types of messages with caution. Instead of clicking on any of the links, hover your cursor over them to see where they redirect. If the redirect site URL is suspicious and contains misspellings, steer clear.

If you ever receive a notification on social media that you have won a prize, remain skeptical until you have verified the authenticity. Locate the organization’s official social media page (which you can likely find on their website), and direct message them for more details.

How to Network Safely

With all of these common scams floating about and waiting to strike, check out these tips to network safely.

1. Consider how much you share

The joy of social media is sharing your everyday life with your friends and family. It is fun to have dozens of people wish you a happy birthday on your profile, but consider removing the year of your birthday. Also, consider removing your phone number, home address, and email address from your profile. If a friend or family member wants to get in touch with you, they can personally direct message you. Cybercriminals can take your contact information and full birthday and use it to steal your identity, so it is best not to post it online.

2. Confirm the truth before sharing

While you may want to share the latest news with your networks, do not share information that you are not sure is true. According to Statistics Canada, only half of Canadians investigated the accuracy of COVID-19 social media posts before they reshared. Do your due diligence and be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

3. Protect your devices from viruses and malware

Even if you are a diligent and intelligent social media user, there is a chance that you could accidentally click on a phishing link. In case this happens, you should have a backup plan to safeguard your devices and your personal information from viruses and malware. Protect your devices with a comprehensive antivirus program, such as McAfee Total Protection. You can rest assured that if you or a member of your family accidentally opens a malicious link, your devices will be safe.

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