Social Media Hacking, Internet Scam Safety Tips
ASHEVILLE – Today’s burning issue involves addressing and preventing cybercriminal activity and holiday fraud. Do you have a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email managing editor Karen Chávez at [email protected] and your question may appear in an upcoming column.
Questions: “I was born BC, before computers. Although I have developed reasonable competence, my skills are far from what it is for the younger generation. Many of my friends, including myself, have individuals who impersonate us and trying to get individuals to friend them by using our names. How does that kind of hacking happen and other than being smart enough not to reply, what can you do to stop it? Is there any way the hacker can be identified? “
Answers: Social media is all fun and games until someone creates a duplicate social media account that impersonates you and sends another request to connect to everyone on your friends list.
It’s happened to the best of us—regardless of age or computer literacy—but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating or offensive.
This question took me down a rabbit hole of information about the many ways cybercriminals exploit and deceive Internet users.
It goes far beyond social media.
And since we are in the season of high online fraud activity, safety tips for Christmas shopping are also included.
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Imitation of social media
The Cybercrime Support Network, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports individuals and small businesses affected by cybercrime, cites several reasons why a cybercriminal would create accounts impersonating social media users, including to connect reach out to the user’s friends to convince them to send money; to steal users’ personal and sensitive information such as where they live and work, bank accounts and social security numbers; to gain access to the user’s account in order to post false content and drive traffic to another account; and to exploit the user by posting inappropriate photos or videos or asking followers to send money.
Additional fraud, loss of financial and personal information and a damaged reputation are among many ways this can negatively impact the user and their followers, the organization states.
The first step to take to combat the impersonators is to report the account to the social media platform. Often there will be a tab on the profile’s page to “report profile” which the platform will review and address – ideally deleting the fake account.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, provides guidelines for reporting fake accounts and recognizing signs that a user account or page is a scam: facebook.com/business/learn/lessons/impersonation-page-profile-account and facebook.com / business/learn/lessons/how-spot-avoid-scams.
Users can make it harder for cybercriminals to impersonate or steal information by strengthening their online security, according to the Cybercrime Support Network. Use stronger, unique passwords that are different from other sites and enable multi-factor authentication, which will require entering a verification code sent directly to the user’s phone or email.
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Users are advised not to overshare or post personal information that could facilitate impersonation. This includes posting text, images or video showing details such as home addresses or registration numbers.
Also, consider updating your account’s privacy settings to limit access to what people who are not approved followers can see. To perform a “privacy check” on Facebook, go to the privacy setting listed under your account or visit facebook.com/privacy/checkup/.
Online Christmas shopping tips
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein addressed the problem of fraud during the holiday season in a recent newsletter, saying, “For people across North Carolina, we’re in the season of giving. But for others, it’s the season of stealing. Criminals use the holidays to take advantage of people’s goodwill to take their money and personal information. They target vulnerable people and use common holiday activities and stressors as a ruse to trick them. While enjoying the holidays with friends and family, watch out for common signs of fraud to help you and your loved ones avoid criminals.”
Stein warns of scammers who set up fake websites with products to lure last-minute rush buyers, but designed to take the person’s money and personal information. Instead of clicking on a pop-up ad, go directly to the company’s website to make a purchase, which can be confirmed by double-checking the URL and looking for the lock icon and “https:” at the beginning of the URL which means the connection is secure .
“When shopping online, be careful how you pay. Be sure to pay by credit card and keep receipts in case there is a problem and you need to get a refund, Stein said in the newsletter. “Credit cards offer some protection if something goes wrong with your order. Never trust anyone who asks you to pay them with prepaid gift cards, via bank transfer, or with cryptocurrency. Online stores that don’t accept credit cards are probably a scam.”
Also, go directly to the company’s or delivery company’s website to track packages and avoid clicking on a link sent via email or text as it could be a phishing message from a scammer. Stein notes that shipping companies such as FedEx, UPS and Amazon do not ask for personal information via email or text.
Track packages to prevent them from being left on a porch or outside a home where thieves can quickly and easily take them. Stein recommends scheduling mail and packages or delayed delivery if an authorized person is not present to receive them.
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Stein also warns against holiday scams focused on charitable donations:
“People increase their charitable donations during the holidays, so criminals create charity scams to take advantage of people’s generosity. Donate to charities you know to avoid these scams. Donating directly to the organization on their website helps you avoid fake crowdfunding and social media campaigns, illegitimate websites and bogus organizations. Check with my office or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance if you are unsure of an organization’s authenticity.”
Victims of fraud are encouraged to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office’s Consumer Protection Division at ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/ or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
Nazneen Ahmed, the attorney general’s press secretary, offered several tips for Internet safety:
- Update your antivirus and security software regularly.
- Don’t be fooled by unexpected emails asking you to click on a link or download an attachment.
- Do not use e-mail to send or receive personal information.
- Never give out social security numbers, driver’s licenses or bank account numbers. Be suspicious if someone asks for your passwords or other information used to install or access your Internet service.
- Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]
- Monitor your accounts and credit report for irregularities.
- If you think you may have been the victim of a hack, request a free security freeze and contact our office.
- If you think you’ve been the victim of a ransomware attack, report it to FBI or US Secret Service immediately.
Tiana Kennell is a food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.