Social media is stretching the traditional definition of friend as someone you know and trust in real life. Now, 50% of people will accept a “friend” request on Facebook or LinkedIn from total strangers. This may sound like the friendly thing to do, but in fact it can be dangerous.
Consider this: 15 million Facebook accounts are fake, and scammers have created many of them as a way to access your information. Given how much we share online, the number of phony accounts is not surprising. We often reveal our date of birth, email address, names of family members and pets, and other details about our lives on social media pages. A scammer can use this information to try to guess your passwords, or they can try to hook you with a phishing message designed to trick you out of information or money.
Remember, phishing scams are one of the biggest threats on the Internet today, and they are even more effective when they appear to come from someone you know because you assume they are safe.
In a typical phishing scam one of your phony friends could send you a private message inviting you to visit a dangerous website that asks you to take a quiz to win a prize. The quiz might ask for a wide variety of personal information that may allow them to access your accounts, or even steal your identity. Or, they could send you a too-good-to-be-true offer, in the hopes that you will give out your credit card or identity information.
So, what can you do to protect yourself from fake friends? Follow these tips to protect yourself and your friends:
- Only “friend” people you know in the real world, and stick to people that you like and trust
- Be wary of offers with the word “free” in them, or ones that sound too good to be true
- Stop and think before you click. Be cautious with links in chat, text and email messages, since these may be from cybercriminals trying to “hook” you
- Protect your devices. Use up-to-date, comprehensive security software on all your devices that has a safe search plug-in to protect you from visiting malicious sites