Social media has quickly overtaken phone call and email as the primary way people keep up with family and friends. There were more than 3.6 billion global social media users in 2020, and that number is expected to increase to nearly 4.5 billion by 2025.
While sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok entertain and inform users, it’s important to know how to stay safe and keep criminals from scamming you or your loved ones.
According to a report by the Federal Trade Commission, social media scams accounted for $134 million in losses in 2019. In 2020, losses hit $117 million in just the first six months. The most prevalent scams are related to shopping, online dating and economic relief or income opportunities.
There are many ways in which scammers target their victims. In some cases, the scammer takes control of a victim’s account and this has access to the victim’s contacts. The scammer will then impersonate the victim, reach out to those contacts and ask for money or other items.
The following tips from Huntsville Police’s Cyber Crime Unit Sgt. Joe Kennington can prevent social media users from falling victim to a scam:
Use strong passwords on your account that include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t repeat passwords on every account you use.
Use a password manager
Consider using a password manager to generate and store secure passwords. It allows a computer to generate and store unique passwords, which are kept in an encrypted database.
Avoid clicking pop-ups
Don’t click on suspicious links, unknown emails or visit unverified websites.
Save your files
Have a system to back-up data at least every three months. This can prevent important work or files being lost if a hacker is able to gain control of your system.
Secure your connection
Only connect to secure Wi-Fi networks. Think twice before connecting to public networks.
Mum’s the word
Be mindful in providing or sharing your personal information with others. If you receive a message on social media asking for money or odd questions, reach out to your friend through another method to make sure it’s really them.
Enable two-factor authentication on your accounts, when available. This extra level of security prevents someone from logging into your accounts, even if they have your password. The authentication requires you to verify your identity using a randomized code each time you attempt to login.
Legitimate companies won’t make unexpected or unsolicited phone calls, send emails or messages through social media asking for personal information or passwords.
Do your own inquiry to find contact information for people you don’t personally know and are communicating with to verify their identity. Never call a phone number provided by a possible scammer.
While these tips are pertinent to social media use, they may also apply to internet, email and phone scams. Kennington says consumers should stick to a general rule: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you believe you were a victim of a scam, call HPD’s non-emergency number (256-722-7100) to file a report.