Now that you’ve taken all the necessary steps to protect your business, you need to do the same to protect yourself. Many a scammer has gotten to a vulnerable business via its people.
Where is the breach likely to happen? If you answered social media platforms and apps, you’re right. Going digital is all the rage. Is it not surprising that the scammers are also there too! Today, it is very easy to create a false impression of yourself. Social media is free and it only takes 2 minutes to set up a profile … 10 minutes with AI if you want to create some sort of credibility where none exist. Therefore, you must take steps to protect yourself.
Beware, scammers do prefer some sites to others. In the fourth quarter of 2022 Facebook took action on 1.3 billion fake accounts. 16% of all Facebook accounts are fake or duplicates. Linkedin does not fare much better with two Stanford researchers finding widespread use of fake Linkedin accounts created with artificial intelligence-generated (AI) profile photos. I’ve seen articles stating that over 80% of Twitter profiles (prior to Elon Musk purchase of Twitter) are bots. The fact is that no one really knows how many fake accounts exist.
So, when you get a request from someone wanting to be your “friend” on facebook, or to “connect” with you on Linkedin, think twice before you blindly accept. Not everything is what it seems. I highly recommend that you read the NPR article. Connecting with everyone on Linkedin or Facebook is not necessarily the best strategy in today’s age of data and identity theft – especially if you have a lot of your private information on your profile. Do you want the new “friend” to access all those information? It is no longer safe for you to enter all your information on your profile. You must protect yourself.
The thieves (and that’s the only word for) are not there to bless you or to grow your network. They are there to harvest whatever information you may have on your profile as a means to getting to someone else or to your employer or even to steal your hard earned cash. The good news is if you are vigilant and exercise some care, you can often spot these false profiles. We now have just as many tools available to us to check on the authenticity of the would be fraudster. So before you go rushing in to connect with someone, stop and look at the would be connection with a critical eye.
This one actually happened to me. I received a request to connect on Linkedin from a person claiming to be the “Head of Global Sanctions Operations and Systems at Royal Bank of Scotland”. At first glance, the profile looked genuine. BUT nothing is ever as it seems. So I decided to check before I accepted the connection.
When I did a search on Linkedin, another profile popped up with exactly the same credentials but a different name. So, I ended up contacting the person that I thought is the real Head of Global Sanctions Operations and asked if there were two individuals with the same job description. Surprise, surprise. Within 2 days, the fake profile that had asked to connect with me had disappeared. And all this was before the advent of AI images! Exercise caution. Protect yourself. If you have doubts, do not connect until you’ve had the opportunity to check it out!
GOLDEN RULES TO ABIDE BY TO PROTECT YOURSELF
1. Grand titles
Beware of HRH (His Royal Highnesses), Colonels, Generals etc in uniform or even the Managing Director of the large corporations like Coca Cola etc (unless of course, you happen to be working in those areas). Those are the ones that I delete without a second thought. Lets face it … No HRH will want to connect with you on social media unless you yourself happen to have that title! And why would these oh-so-important colonels and brigadier generals want to connect with you?
2. Disgustingly good-looking men or women
Ever had a request to connect with some younger attractive man (for women users) or woman (for male users). You have no connection in common and out of the blue they want to connect with YOU! Get real! Unfortunately, many lonely men and women have been caught by this one and many have lost thousands of dollars. In fact, many of the would-be scammers scour the obituary pages to target the grieving widow/widower! If in doubt, show the request to a trusted friend. Protect yourself!
3. Same photo, different name
The wonders of technology means you can now cross check if the person goes by a different name. Go to Tin Eye www.tineye.com or Google Reverse Image Search https://www.google.co.uk/imghp and do a reverse image search. Or even do a search for an image of the real person using the company and job title and see what you get. You might find that the person who is wanting to connect with you looks totally different! In the old days, you might even find their photo in one of the stock photo websites. However, with the advent of AI, they don’t need stock photos anymore. They will just get AI to generate a unique photo for them. It is definitely getting harder to tell the difference to be able to protect yourself.
4. Who are their connections
Is there anyone you know on their list of connections? It might pay to check with your connection. Bear in mind, some people will connect with ANYBODY on social media. Some think that having lots of connections means they’re “popular”. So they connect with anybody and everybody who contacts them. Do you know that you can actually BUY connections for as little as $5 for 1,000 connections! On Facebook, where people tend to posts fairly personal photos, there’s often very little activity with the only photos you see being photos of themselves or locations.
5. Linkedin Endorsements
Often the scammer has very few endorsements, despite having 1000’s of connections. And it’s the same person endorsing them for everything! Personally, I have found that people will endorse others for anything. Linkedin pops up these suggestions and many people will just click on it in the hope that you will then endorse them back. Depending on their stated occupations, are the endorsements reasonable? For example, if the person is a Manager of a company in USA, what are the chances that someone from say, Africa knows enough about him or her to endorse for the nominated skill?
6. Age of social media profile
Unfortunately, you cannot determine the age of most social media profiles. That’s a pity. It would have been a good way to determine if the profile was newly set up to scam people. All you can go by is the history – are there many posts? Having many friends or connections no longer mean anything. Do the posts cover the sort of topics you would expect from the connection. Once I had a request to connect and the request came from someone who said they knew a colleague of mine. I checked – they had never heard of them! That is a common tactic used by scammers. Protect yourself by checking with the “mutual” friend where you can.
7. Ask Google or it’s equivalent
Always always always check with Google. My golden rule is, if in doubt, check. Bear in mind, it is just as easy for the scammer to set up websites with reviews that purport to show what amazing honest people they are. Do a search in the various scam watch websites. There’s usually one in every country.
8. Look their email address.
You can always check whether the email address is valid. Just go https://email-checker.net/. The website will tell you whether the mailbox exist. If you’re at all unsure, do not click on their email. Clicking on ANY link may result in dangerous malware being installed on your device. I tend to be more wary of someone with a free gmail or Hotmail account. If you’re looking to build business connections, it’s more credible if the request comes from someone with a proper domain email address.
9. Incomplete profiles
These are a dead giveaway. In fact, most sections are blank or only have a couple of sentences. The English tend to be poor – although, with the advent of AI, this is another area that’s a lot better done than before. It’s also worth checking other platforms to see if they have the same profile. A Linkedin profile is likely targeted at the business owner whereas a Facebook profile is set to attract the lonely widow/widower.
WHAT ARE THEY AFTER
What are the scammers after? What do they want? Why take all this trouble to set up a fake profile? At its best, the scammer is after information such as email addresses. At worst, they are trying to gain your trust and hit you or someone in your network with a phishing attack later or steal your identity. None are palatable.
So, if you inadvertently connected with a fake, don’t panic. The real value to the scammer comes from engaging in a conversation with you so that you can get to know, like and trust him or her. If you then get an email from a new connection, usually with some amazing offer, you then have 3 options:
- Block the connection.
- Report the criminal.
- Report to the Platform itself eg Linkedin or Facebook so they can disable the account and prevent others being victimised.
Identity theft happens on all social media platforms as well as in the real world. It can be a real inconvenience when that happens. The recent Optus data breach resulted in many having to change their various identification documents to protect themselves from potential identity theft.
MINIMISE THE RISK
You can minimize the risk by taking the following precautions to protect yourself.
- Clean up your profile and avoid posting personal information such as your date of birth, place of birth, etc about yourself. Identity thieves will love you forever if you do.
- Avoid downloading software from unknown websites. Screensavers, games etc can include spyware that will spy on you. Remember – if it’s free, YOU are the product!
- Use strong passwords and double authentication on your social media accounts. Whatever you do, do NOT use those common passwords.
- Monitor your credit reports and bank statements to spot any unauthorized activity.
- Most of all … Stay alert. It will come for YOU. You are not that special that they will ignore you. Anybody is fair game.
And most of all, before you hit that yes to connect or friend someone, do check. Protect yourself!