COLUMN: Don’t get sucked into these social media scams

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We all know someone who has been a victim of an online scam, whether it’s their bank account being ‘phished’, their Facebook profile being ‘hacked’ or even the 419 scam (the emails promising a share of a payout in return for your bank details).

The prime Facebook scam is currently the ‘store voucher’, offering usually a £100 supermarket coupon, in return for you sharing the link and completing an innocuous survey. This survey is often full of malware which will infect your computer. Never click on any of these links.

Secondly, more mildly, is the ‘like and share’, often asking you to ‘like’, ‘share’ or ‘comment’ on a post offering a free holiday or other prize. Every time you do this, your friends see it, some of them then click it, their friends then do it and so it carries on. These pages are ‘like-farming’ – your data is valuable and you will see the page become something totally different if you bother to look at it again a few months later. Look at the page – does it look genuinely like a travel company, store or whatever it’s pretending to be? You’ll often see ones titled ‘Thomas Cook.’, not ‘Thomas Cook’. Bad grammar and spelling, no website, no real info in the ‘about section’ or if it has been recently set up indicate a fraud.

Recently there have been a lot of people selling non-existent holidays, especially in caravans, or events that don’t exist. Ask yourself, would you give your money over to someone you don’t know in the street to book their caravan? You wouldn’t, so why do it online! Check with the holiday park or, if an event, the location it’s due to be held.

Finally, the fake goods and dodgy mobile phones that infest every local Facebook selling page. You see everyday someone selling cheap, nasty fake clothing. The Christmas before last I saw a couple constantly selling fake Pandora and Frozen toys, bedding and clothes. As well as being poor quality that falls apart, these goods don’t conform to safety standards and are often, in the case of clothing and bedding, a fire risk.

Regarding mobile phones and electricals, every week someone posts on the selling pages ‘don’t buy from X, they scammed me’. They’ve bought a mobile, tablet or electrical item and it’s blocked or faulty having not checked the item properly or done some research. Always see the item working and at the vendor’s house if possible. Take their car registration plate if they come to you. Ask for a history, receipts and always be suspicious. If someone wants to meet you in a town centre or bus station, ask yourself why. Does their profile look genuine, and again, would you really part with £100 in the street for a mobile phone to someone you don’t know? Facebook familiarises people, it makes people *think* they know someone, and that is the problem. If buying a phone, you can check an IMEI number for £2.99 online, less than a pint. And if something looks too good to be true, there’s a reason. If you’re sold dodgy goods, report them to trading standards. You may not get your money back, but especially in the case of household electricals, you may stop a family buying the next dangerous washing machine off them.

In my next column I’ll show how easy it is for someone to get far more information from your social media and online activity than you would ever think.