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How to Stay Safe on Social Media in 2017

June 27, 2017

How do criminals use social media?

Social media sites are now an integral part of our daily lives—and posting personal information and photos to our profile pages has become fairly commonplace. Yet, more and more often, cybercriminals are using social media to troll for personal information to help them commit identity theft and physical theft such as break-ins while people are away from home. Any of the following info can be used to build a profile on you:

  • Email addresses and passwords
  • Cell phone numbers
  • When you are away on vacation
  • Where you go on a regular basis
  • Where you work
  • Personal information about your children, their names, pets’ names
  • Pictures of your children
  • Your network of family and friends including names and addresses

Social media scams present another large threat. By clicking an infected link on a social media channel and visiting a site with an infected ad, your unprotected devices can become a target for hackers. Criminals use the platforms to steal personal information, request money, or steal bank and credit card information.

What You
Should Know

Social media scams are on the rise as criminals search for more ways to steal personal and financial information.

What You
Can Do

Be careful about posting any personal information online, clicking on suspicious links, and sending money to anyone you meet through social media.

As of 2014, 81% of internet-initiated crime involves social networking sites.1

How to help keep your personal information safe

You should be careful about how much personal information you post on your social media pages. It’s always better to err on the side of safety when posting personal information, especially when posting information about your location, your vacation plans, any personal items that thieves might want, or your children who can become unknowing victims of identity theft. Some more specific tips follow:

Use privacy and security settings – Learn how to use your profile’s privacy and security settings in order to keep your personal information, videos, and pictures from falling into the wrong hands.

Be wary of what you post – Once you post something it can stay online indefinitely, so think twice before posting pictures you wouldn’t want your parents, peers, or employers to see.

Keep personal information safe – The more personal the information you post the easier it is for thieves to steal your identity, access your data, or commit other crimes both physically, like stalking, or cyber, like tax fraud.

Know your connections – Not all “friends” or business contacts are created equal. Use your social network’s settings to manage the information you share with friends in different groups.

Keep business and personal separate – Keep business and personal social personas separate. Do not share personal information on your business network.

Speak up – If someone posts something about you that makes you uncomfortable or you think is inappropriate, ask them to take it down. Likewise, stay open-minded if someone approaches you with a similar request.

Keep security software current – Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system is the best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats.

Monitor your child’s social media activity – Use “parental control” software to monitor what your children post and what websites they visit—both on their phones and other devices. You should also teach your children safe online behavior so they’ll be less likely to fall victim to online predators, identity thieves, and scammers.


Common social media scams

Criminals are using different social platforms to phish and steal. Help stay safe across all your social accounts by learning about the most popular scams.

  • Social media phishing: In this scam, a fraudulent account is created impersonating a company. Criminals then create posts with fraudulent links that are similar to the organization’s secure website links. After clicking on the link, victims are pushed to log in to a fake website, which exposes their personal information to hackers.
  • Friend impersonators: This scam is also trending. If you receive a message from a friend asking you to share in money they have won, be wary. Your friend’s account has likely been hacked, giving the hacker access to your profile. This scam contributes to identity theft, fraud, and digital kidnapping.
  • Cash starter kits: In this case, scammers set up fake profiles on social media promoting a “get cash fast” scheme. Users who order the kit surrender credit and debit card information and are charged a hidden $50 membership fee. Scammers also use the information to make fraudulent charges on users’ credit cards.
  • Illegitimate direct messages: Here, scammers send users links to fake social media log-in pages. If they then sign into the account, it gives hackers the opportunity to steal log-in information, jeopardizing personal security and providing hackers with the chance to continue to spread the scam around social media.
  • Selling account scams: Here, scammers target users who are trying to increase their follower base. Fake advertisements selling accounts with large follower bases are distributed, and unsuspecting users pay scammers a hefty fee for log-in credentials. After the fee is paid, the scammers disappear with the money, along with the advertised profile.
  • Fake advertising deals: In these scams, criminals send links to social media accounts with fake deals, and then convince you to pay with PayPal, most likely through the “Family and Friends” option. Since the “Family and Friends” option is not protected by PayPal, you are unable to file a claim for a fraudulent transaction after the fact.
  • Fake job offers: These are the number one scams on career-minded social media and job board websites. These jobs tend to be high-paying, remote positions. User’s personal information is collected off job applications, and the user can be hired for a short period of time before being “laid off.” The user will not be paid for time worked, and the user’s information, such as their social security number, will be stolen.
  • Online dating: Scammers are also out on social media sites, creating fake accounts and luring people on dating apps. Once they gain your trust, they will ask you to send them money or your bank account information, then disappear.

81% of Americans have a social media profile, making the majority of the U.S. population susceptible to social media scams.2

Don’t become a victim

Take the proper precautions to safeguard your information. It is important to know how to keep your personal information personal. Consider the following steps to help stay safe on social media:

  • Create strong, unique passwords for each social media account you possess.
  • Delete unsolicited emails and texts from social media sites.
  • Verify company profiles you find on social media sites.
  • Think before you click pop-ups or suspicious links.
  • Delete unnecessary information from your profiles, such as your birthday, your address, and pets’ names.
  • Refrain from posting location statuses, such as when you are out of town.

If you become a social media scam victim

First off, don’t panic. Follow these steps to help make sure you remedy the situation properly:3

  1. Immediately cease all communication with the scammer.
  2. Keep records of the communications between you and the scammer.
  3. Report the incident to the respective social media site as well as your local police department.
  4. Report the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Compliant Center at
  5. Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission via
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