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How can you protect yourself on social networking sites? Security tips

Social media platforms can be a great way to connect with your friends or family and share the best moments of your life with them. However, while you can choose what to put out there, you can’t control what others do with your personal information online. And if you’re not cautious, this information can make you a target for scams. In this article, we’ll explore the most popular social media scams and discuss how to stay safe on social media.

How can you protect yourself on social networking sites? Security tips

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What are the dangers of social networking sites?

While social media sites have become a big part of our social interactions, they pose significant risks, particularly concerning social media privacy issues. One of the most concerning risks involves various scams that exploit personal information, making users vulnerable to fraud and phishing attacks. Below are the most popular types of scams used by cybercriminals.

  • Investment scams. Have you ever received a message promising you a quick and easy profit? These messages are among the biggest and most popular social media scams right now. Scammers often build a relationship using publicly available personal information, then pitch a “great investment opportunity” with a promise of high short-term profits. However, your money goes directly to their pocket.
  • Social media survey scams. Survey fraud aims to collect as many of your personal details as possible so bad actors can later sell them on the dark web for identity theft or use them in other ways to gain profit. Fraudsters typically create a sense of urgency by promising rewards for the first respondents, exploiting people’s fear of missing out. They can also use fake personality quizzes to trick you into revealing answers to common security questions.
  • Hackers impersonating someone you know. This type of fraud often targets your social media site connections and occasionally even involves celebrities. In a way, such impersonation can be considered identity theft. A hacker creates fake social media profiles using the information they can find online, then messages you for financial assistance or to perform URL phishing. When it comes to celebrity impersonators, fake giveaways are a common tactic used for scamming.
  • Fake job opportunities. As remote work maintains popularity, so do job opportunity scams. Scammers contact people on social media, promising remote job opportunities with almost dream-like benefits. These deceptions typically aim to extract money from you by convincing you to purchase supposedly essential equipment or giving away your private information. Fake job opportunities are also popular Instagram scams, where a brand invites you to be an influencer but requires you to purchase goods upfront, often never delivering them.
  • Chatbot scams. A deceiver pretending to be a chatbot may reach out to you, claiming that your social media account has been compromised and asking you to update your password. This ploy aims to obtain your login credentials for easy access to your account. Sometimes, they may contact you via phone or email, requesting your 2FA code. To avoid falling for this type of scam, always look for warning signs, like poor grammar.
  • Fake ads or listings. Social media platforms are increasingly introducing shopping features on their sites. But with that comes a risk of being taken advantage of. Con artists target people with fake ads that will guide them to scam websites or carry out Facebook marketplace scams by posting fake product listings. Their goal is to deceive you into sharing payment details or sending money.

How to protect yourself on social media sites

Knowing the main rules for social media safety is essential to enjoy social media responsibly. Here’s what you can do to avoid being scammed on social networking sites.

1. Keep your social media accounts private

Being private on social media is necessary to stay safe. Check your privacy settings to see who can find you and view your personal information. Specifically, change the default settings to protect your identity. Even seemingly harmless information shared publicly, like your name or search history, can be used against you in phishing scams. For example, a fraudster can easily get your home address just by looking up your name and city.

It’s always best to keep your account as private as possible, but you can adjust the privacy settings to your comfort level. Make sure to limit who can contact you – if strangers can’t find you, you have a smaller chance of being attacked.

2. Think before you share

You don’t have to share everything on social media. Even when you increase the privacy of your account, your information can easily fall into the wrong hands. You’d be surprised if you tried to find an answer to the question, “What does Facebook know about me?” And while most of that information isn’t public, some of it can be used by hackers to exploit you.

Share only what you’re comfortable with anyone knowing, and limit the personal information on your profile. Content involving personal data or your current whereabouts poses a significant safety risk.

One aspect that most people don’t think about is the background of the pictures they post. Before sharing, always inspect your photographs to protect your identity and location, and be sure that:

  • No one can determine your location through details in the background, such as street signs, shopping centers, or other landmarks.
  • No sensitive data is visible, like IDs lying around or your computer screen turned on.

Remember, once you post something, it’s out there forever. Even if you delete the post, the data may still exist on other users’ devices. So before you post, take a moment to think, “Should I share this?”

3. Turn off your location on the social media platform

Most social networking sites will ask for access to your live location, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy scrolling through your feed. Granting platforms access to your location can be dangerous because sharing your whereabouts poses a significant risk to your physical safety.

Be cautious when manually tagging an exact location in your public posts. If you must tag your location, wait until after you leave. This way, you’ll be safer, and your friends will still see what fancy restaurant you enjoyed your delicious-looking pasta at.

4. Use a private internet connection

Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks. Instead, use private or personal networks or cellular data. This is a good practice for safe browsing in general. By taking advantage of public networks, fraudsters may steal your login credentials, account information, financial data, or even your Social Security number, which they can use for identity theft.

If you must use a public internet connection, make sure you have cybersecurity tools in place and use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your IP address, making it much harder for the perpetrators to access your personal information.

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5. Discuss privacy with your friends

While scammers may use your accounts to extract your personal information, they can also try to get to you through other people’s social media accounts, such as those of your friends and family. Communicate with your friends about your privacy preferences and let them know what you’re comfortable sharing.

Many social media sites allow you to adjust the privacy settings for content you’re tagged in. Make use of these settings to control who can see posts that involve you.

Before posting anything about your friends, always ask for their permission. Whether you tag and mention them directly or indirectly, if the content involves any information about their identity, avoid posting it without their consent.

6. Report inappropriate content

It’s important to know how to filter out content and report or block anything inappropriate or uncomfortable. If someone makes you uncomfortable, you can report them to the hosting site or block them to prevent further contact.

If the harassment continues, take screenshots as evidence in case the content gets removed. This documentation can be crucial if you need to contact authorities or support teams.

7. Be cautious

Always stay cautious and don’t open suspicious links or files, even if they come from a friend. Scammers often hack into social media accounts and exploit the owner’s contacts. If you’re not sure if the message is coming from your friend, contact them through other channels and ask.

For fraud protection, it’s always a good idea to have a malware blocker or other anti-malware software on your device. To make your device even more secure, always keep your operating system up to date. Regular updates ensure you have the latest security patches to protect against new threats.

You also need to be extremely cautious when you accept friend requests. Even if an account appears legitimate, you can never be sure who is on the other end or what their intentions are. Scammers can use fake accounts to try and access the information you only share with friends.

8. Use a strong password and two-factor authentication

Consider your security settings. A strong and unique password makes your accounts less vulnerable to hackers accessing your account through brute force attacks. Strong and unique passwords are:

  • At least 12 characters long.
  • A mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Not a common word or the name of a person or a place.
  • Not used for other online accounts.
  • Easy for you to remember but difficult to guess.

If managing multiple strong passwords seems daunting, consider using a password manager. A reliable password manager will generate secure passwords automatically and auto-fill them when needed.

Additionally, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) as an extra security measure. This can be done using your phone number or an authenticator app. When logging in, a one-time-use code will be sent to your phone, which you’ll need to input to gain access. Remember – never give out your 2FA codes to anyone!

9. Perform regular check-ups

Even if you increase the privacy of your account, you can never be too cautious. Companies sometimes change their policies or carry out automatic updates on their platforms, all of which can affect your settings. Revisit your privacy settings every 3-6 months to ensure your account remains as secure as you want it to be.

What to do if you’ve been scammed online

Falling victim to an online scam can be a distressing experience, but knowing the right steps to take can help you regain control. In this section, we’ll guide you through the immediate actions and resources available to assist you if you’ve been scammed online, helping you to recover and protect yourself from future incidents.

  • Update your security credentials. If you notice that you’ve been scammed but still have access to your social media accounts, change your password and enable additional security features. It’s important to act quickly to prevent fraudsters from getting in.
  • Recover your online accounts. If you’ve already been locked out, try to recover them. On the login page, require your password to be reset. The link to do so will be sent to your email account or phone. However, if a fraudster changes your backup email address and phone number, the process is more complicated.
  • Set up 2FA. Enabling 2FA is an essential step in securing your social media accounts. While it may not undo the damage if scammers have already gained access to your account, activating 2FA can provide an additional layer of protection against access attempts to other accounts.
  • Collect all evidence. Before you report and block the account you suspect is run by a fraudster, make sure to take screenshots because the communication can be wiped afterward.
  • Cancel pending transactions. If you get caught in a financial scam and send scammers money, contact your bank or other financial institution you have accounts with and ask if you can cancel all fraudulent payments or transfers. Contacting the authorities in time can help prevent scammers from further getting into your financial accounts.
  • Perform an antivirus scan. If you suspect that your device has been compromised as a result of falling victim to URL phishing, it’s important to take immediate action. Run a full antivirus scan to identify and remove any malicious software that may have been installed without your knowledge.
  • Freeze your credit. If scammers have gotten their hands on sensitive information that can be used for identity theft, you need to get ahead of them and freeze your credit. This will prevent deceivers from taking out loans in your name.
  • Report the incident. If you’ve been scammed, report the incident to the social media platform as well as the authorities. Acting promptly is essential to mitigate the impact of the fraud and prevent others from falling victim to similar schemes.