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Avoiding social media scams

Can you spot a fake ad or shopping scam on social media websites like Facebook or Instagram? Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

Social media sites are an ideal platform for scammers. With the ease of access and the volume of sponsored ads, fraudsters can easily target social media users with fake ads or lure users into fake online stores, where their information, money, or even their identity can be stolen. Watch out for these red flags, which can alert you to the likelihood of a fake ad or fake shopping site.

Notice the red flags.

An ad on social media offering incredibly low prices for normally high-ticket items or free products. A product sold with a discount of 80% or more should raise a red flag. These products may never arrive, or they may be stolen, faulty, expired, or counterfeit. If it sounds too good to be true, it is probably a scam.
 The shopping site asks for payment using unconventional payment methods. A website that asks for payment via wire transfer, money order, gift cards, or apps like Venmo or Zelle should also raise a red flag. Most credible websites offer traditional payment methods such as credit card or PayPal.
• The website does not look legitimate. This can include a poor design, spelling mistakes, broken hyperlinks, stock photos or images taken from the internet, a lack of reviews or phony-looking reviews, or missing policy pages. If you cannot learn more about the company on their contact, about us, or policy pages, you are probably on a fake site.
• You are asked to share personal information. On sites like Facebook Marketplace, beware of buyers/sellers who ask you to share your information (phone number or email address), have no profile picture, very few friends, multiple posts of the same item, a new profile, or no buying or selling history. Don’t ignore these basic red flags, as the seller/buyer may be setting you up for a scam.

Protect yourself.

Arm yourself with these protective measures and information to keep safe from fake ads and shopping sites:
• Don’t click on sponsored ads. Instead, go directly to the retailer’s official website to find the deal or offer.
• Buy from online retailers you recognize and have bookmarked on your browser. Don’t blindly trust search results. Make sure to scrutinize the URL and the website before sharing any of your information.
• Choose stores that use secure websites (SSL encryption— where your information will be masked) and look for the padlock icon and https:// in the beginning of the website’s URL.
• Never share sensitive information with an unverified contact.
• Don’t open emails or click on links from people you don’t know.
• Never wire money or pay via prepaid debit card, money order, or gift card to an unknown contact. 
• Keep the security on all your devices set to their highest settings and enable popup blocker features on your web browser.

If you’ve been targeted, take these steps.

If you believe you’re being targeted by a fake ad or shopping site, don’t engage further with the scammer. Report the scam to the social media site where the ad appeared and the legitimate company the scammers are spoofing. If your information was exchanged, you should contact Member Services right away to protect your accounts. You can also report the scam to your local law enforcement agency. Finally, let your friends know about the scam so more people are aware and on guard.

For more helpful information about how to protect yourself from fraud, visit our Account Security & Protection page.

All information presented on this page is for educational purposes only and doesn’t constitute tax, legal, or accounting advice. It is to be considered as general information, not recommendations. Please consult with an attorney or tax professional for guidance.
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