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Social Media Hijacking: Beware of the New “Scamdemic”



In 2021, reports of social media scams increased by 1,044 percent, according to “2021 Trends in Identity,” a new report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). In fact, social media scams are so common that the ITRC is calling the trend an emerging “scamdemic.”

Identity thieves “flocked to social media in a scamdemic of account takeover,” according to the report. Google Voice scams, fake grant offers from purported “friends” and phishing scams topped the list of the most common social media scams, according to the ITRC.

Social media hijacking is on the rise, but that doesn’t mean you have to get sucked into criminals’ schemes to steal your personally identifiable information for identity theft purposes.

Here are the most common social media scams and how to avoid them.

Google Voice scams

In the last quarter of 2021, the ITRC received a “large influx” of reports from people who were duped by scammers trying to buy items the sellers posted on online marketplaces — Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Craigslist, for example — according to the ITRC report. The sellers typically used Google Voice numbers in the course of their business.

With this type of scam, the scammers ask their victims to verify that they are legitimate sellers by sending a verification code for Google Voice. Once the code is obtained, the criminals may try to sell the Google Voice number with a U.S. area code outside the country. Or they’ll use the victim’s legitimate Google Voice number to carry out other scams.

Find out: How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Identity Theft

Government grant scams

Scammers can trick you on social media by sending a message that appears to be from one of your social media “friends,” telling you they received a grant from the government and that you should apply, too. To receive the grant, all you have to do is share your address, date of birth, driver’s license information and then pay a fee to receive the funds.

Once you provide the information the scammer requests and pay the fee, you won’t receive the phony grant. Instead, you’ve opened the door to identity theft and financial fraud.

Find out: Don’t Be Fooled by These 6 Government Imposter Scams

Hijacked Instagram accounts

In 2021, the ITRC received many reports from social media influencers saying they were lured into “phishing” scams after their social media account information. The scammers falsely promised to increase the person’s chances of their account being verified on Instagram’s platform.

Other victims reported being told they could profit from a Bitcoin investment. Then the scammer asked the influencer to post a video saying they made money from the investment, even though that was untrue. Both scams tricked the victims into providing Instagram account details so the scammer could hijack the account for their own purposes.

“In all instances, the recovery number/email for the social media account was changed, and the victims were locked out of their accounts,” according to the ITRC report.

Find out: Don’t Get Burned by These 3 Hot Scams of 2022

How to avoid social media scams

The ITRC offers the following tips for avoiding hijacked social media account scams.

1.  Beware of messages about easy money from “friends”

If you receive a direct message from one of your social media friends, connections or followers telling you about easy ways to make money or offers for free money, watch out.

“Hackers/scammers have gotten good at taking over accounts or spoofing legitimate accounts, so you can’t rely on the person ‘talking’ to you by chat actually being your friend,” says the ITRC report.

2. Never click on message links

Scammers like to send messages on social media with links that may direct you to fake websites asking for your account password and other information they can use for identity theft purposes. Don’t click on the link. If you want to investigate further, contact the business or entity at its official website (government website domains always end with “.gov”) for more information.

3. Verify before sharing personal information

If you receive a social media message, asking for personal information, don’t answer.

Never share personally identifiable information like log-ins, passwords, driver’s license information, Social Security number or other personally identifiable information that criminals can use to steal your identity, open new accounts or commit fraudulent transactions without verifying that the message is legitimate (which it probably isn’t).

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