11 social media threats and scams to watch out for


We post, share and comment on them but have you heard of the 11 big social media threats and scams that you need to watch out for?

Before the advent of social media, we had to go outside to socialize with our friends. Scary times. Now, pretty much everyone (and their granny) has a social media account. We use it to showcase our creativity, update friends on our lives, and as a detailed planning board for our interests.

Whatever platform you’ve made your online home on, one thing is certain: plenty of people take social media safety less seriously than they should. They post, share, and retweet without considering their privacy. Today, we’re taking a look at 11 big social media threats and scams that you need to watch out for.

It’s time to step away from social media and get serious about your safety!

1. Likejacking/clickjacking

Likejacking is sneakier than it is damaging, as it tricks the user into clicking items on a webpage and liking something without their knowledge. How do you like things by accident?

The scam operates on two layers. The back layer comes with a ‘Like’ button that will follow you round the screen – you won’t see it. The front shows a post that’s meant to be alluring. Maybe it’s a crazy video or a post about someone’s amazing body transformation.

Many likejacking scams are no longer a concern as Facebook released a bookmarklet that avoids the possibility of likejacking. However, likejacking in 2017 is a concern as pages you may have previously liked are often bought and sold. Once safe pages are now loaded with malware or suspicious links so be careful about anything you click.

2. Fake giveaways

In the last few years, marketers in big brands have used competitions as a cheap way to earn likes, clicks, and traffic. You’ll see competitions all over social media.

For example, chocolate conglomerate Mondolez International ran a competition on Snapchat asking users to submit a drawn-on photo of a TimeOut bar for the chance of winning €10,000. On Instagram, designer Marc Jacobs scouted for new models via a social media casting call with the hashtag #castmemarc.

Social media based competitions are widely popular and create lots of interaction – but they can come with a sting in the tail in the form of fake giveaways specifically created with the intention of tricking people into handing over precious information.

famous example of a fake giveaway is from a couple of years back when a number of pages using famous car brand names ran competitions with prizes of new cars. Many of the pages were created for ‘like farming’ to gather likes and then be sold on to a third party.

main phone in hands

3. Unbelievable news that’s really malware

Titles and topics vary, but there’s one constant: the news usually takes the form of a video with an outrageous title. Titles range from recently dead celebrities to shocking worldwide events and explicit videos.
Morbid curiosity kicks in and people hit the link en-masse, compromising their account or computer, or driving money to scammers via affiliate scams. Which leads nicely on to:

4. Affiliate scams

The point of any scam is to make money. If scammers aren’t making money, they’ll have to move on to a new idea or technology to trick people. With social media scams, affiliate programs are often the source of the money.
Affiliate scams are incentive programs where companies pay an affiliate to drive traffic or new subscribers to their site. Let’s say, for example, you’re scrolling Twitter and you see an ad offering a gift card for an exclusive department store to the first 20 people to enter their email address.

So you enter your email address and hit submit. The scammer will earn a referral fee for your email address and you’ll never see that gift card. Don’t be surprised if you find your inbox inundated with spam emails promising all kinds of things!  

main woman cafe coffee phone

5. Fake friends or followers

If you search ‘buy followers’, you’ll soon see that just about anyone can buy thousands of followers for the princely sum of a tenner. You can do it across the board for social media.

Why would anyone buy fake followers? Likely to massage their egos.

However, it’s not all about ego-massaging as sometimes fake accounts will friend or add you only to send you a dangerous phishing message. Followers are great, but just make sure they are more friend than foe!

6. Phishing attempts with fake links

Phishing happens when someone sends a message pretending to be a reputable company/contact in order to get their victim to reveal personal info like passwords or credit card numbers.

Phishing is particularly potent as the emails can often look very real. In some cases, the emails even link to a spoof version of a website (a bank or online store, for example), and users will input their details. On the other end of the screen, a hacker could then have access to a person’s credit card information or personal information to set up identity theft.

While phishing is largely popular in email, private messages on social media can also contain phishing links. Never open a link in an unsolicited email unless you requested the link and/or know exactly where the link is going.

main group phone selfie

7. Catfishing/dating scams

Catfish, noun:

1. Any of an order (Siluriformes) of chiefly freshwater stout-bodied scaleless bony fish having long tactile barbels.
2. A person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.

Via Merriam Webster.

What’s the link between the two things and why is it called ‘catfishing’? In 2010, Nev Schulman (who has since gone on to create a long-running MTV show of the same name) filmed a documentary called Catfish about the fake woman he’d fallen in love with online.

In the documentary, one of the characters gives the following speech:

“They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them, the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh.”
And et voila, a word was born into the cultural lexicon.

But catfishing can be dangerous. Sometimes, catfishes are bots created by spammers to send dodgy links en masse on social platforms. In an incredibly bizarre case in America, a woman discovered that her niece was planning to murder her when she befriended her with a fake account on Facebook.

8. Cyberbullying and abuse

The internet lends itself to anonymity, and anonymity can often lend itself to bad behaviour – especially on social media, where there are no real standards or policing. Celebrity accounts, for example, can be a free-for-all for a deluge of hateful comments and mean remarks. Cyberbullying has become a feature of social media usage in the past few years with many organisations and networks actively combatting this form of abuse.

9. Identity theft

Identity theft affects millions of people a year. A lack of knowledge, increased trust in social media, and a lack of data standards around data collected on social media are a huge part of this. The boom of social advertising plays a part too, as people give away huge amounts of personal information – often without particularly meaning to.

Criminals and hackers trawl social media for information: ticket stubs to duplicate barcodes, holiday posts to facilitate burglary, and personal information to crack passwords or steal identities.

Never publicly post any of the following on your social accounts:
• Full name
• Date of birth
• Hometown
• Relationship status
• Pet names

Everything you like, share, and comment on says something about you – so have a good think before you hit the ‘post’ button.

main woman laptop iced coffee

10. Fake apps loaded with viruses or real apps that will sell your data

Quizzes and social apps are particularly sneaky. They’ll lure you in with a catchy title: What Harry Potter character are you? What personality type do you have? What colour is your personality?

You’ve seen them. You friends have done them. You’ve probably done a couple of them too. In 2015, a Facebook quiz called Most Used Words came bundled with terms and conditions that gave the developers permission to sell their data to third parties, as well as giving them data like your name, pictures, friends, and entire Facebook history – as well as your IP address and device.

18 million people accepted those terms and conditions.

And that was a reasonably legitimate app. Legally, they’re on solid ground: people were outright agreeing to hand over their data.

Other apps aren’t quite so clear in their intentions as they’ll bundle a seemingly real app with malware

11. Private messages with dodgy links

One word: worms. And not the wiggly kind you find hanging out in the ground. Worms are a type of malware that replicate themselves to spread to as many computers as possible. They’re often packaged in a way that means you have to click something out of extreme curiosity.

Worms can take the shape of a strange video file, a photo of you up to something you shouldn’t be, or a message from a friend along the lines of ‘just see what you did/is this you?/I can’t believe you did this’, alongside a shortened link.
The trick with shortened links is that they could be going absolutely anywhere. Your curiosity might be raging, but you really don’t want to put your device at risk for the sake of it!

8 ways to protect your private information online:

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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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