Anatomy of a Scam

An analysis of web scams, what they look like, how they work and what they do.

Scams are an increasing problem all over the web but they are most prevalent on social networking sites where they can quickly reach the largest audiences.  This post will focus on Facebook scams but most of the information will be relevant for any website.

So first and foremost, what to be wary of…

Video Scam Sample

Sample of a scam video post

If you click on something and you don’t get what you expect then it’s probably wise to step away.  For example, if you think you’re clicking to watch a YouTube video and you don’t then see a YouTube video, there probably is no video and you should move on before you stumble into damage.

This type of scam is often referred to as “Link Jacking” and can be any scenario where a web link is hijacked to show one thing but take you to something else.

What else might a scam look like?

The list below is not exhaustive and some of the scenarios may occur legitimately.  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell between a real post and a scam post but what comes after a click should be enough to give the game away.

Photo tagging scam sample

Photo tagging scam sample

  • You’ve been tagged in a photograph that is clearly not you, has nothing to do with you and is not of anyone you know.
  • Give-away competitions, usually for new or pre-release major news items like iPad2.
  • Breaking news articles that aren’t from a reputable news outlet.
  • Scammers have also started using comments on legitimate posts to get around new security features put in place by Facebook to combat these scams.
  • Age or real-person verifications, often referred to as captchas.  Unfortunately these are sometimes legitimate but fake captchas are the rise.

I think I’ve got a live one… what should I do?

Do anything OTHER than click any more links on that page!  Close the browser tab or window, go back to your home page, browse back to Facebook with the address bar or open a bookmark link.  Just don’t click any where else on the current page and you should be safe.  Remember, the cunning scammers can make pretty much anything within the browser window look like anything else.

Then, if you’re feeling charitable, send the duped person a message to let them know that they may be propagating a scam (why not send them here for some useful tips!).  They’re probably unaware of the video having been posted to their wall and occasionally it’s not actually a scam so it’s best to offer a brief question than an outright accusation.

You can also do a quick web search for the title of the post; it may already have been reported as a scam.  If so, copying that report to the duped person will be a big help.

Doh! I’ve been duped… what now?

First and foremost, delete the posting from your wall so that none of your friends fall for the same trick.  Then remove the offending Facebook app…

  1. “Privacy Settings” from the top right
  2. “Edit your settings” under “Apps and Website” on the bottom left
  3. “Remove unwanted or spammy apps”
  4. Delete the offenders from the list.  Simples!

I hope you’ve found this helpful 🙂 please let me know what you think of my first ever blog post in the comments below… 

5 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Scam

  1. Susie

    Great post, with some useful hints and tips. I’m sure that lots of us have experienced these kind of scams but not sure what to do when we see them.

    What happens though if we have clicked these links, does this mean that we have a virus on our pcs or our details have been sent somewhere??

  2. thegaryhawkins

    Hi Susie, more often than not, you’ll just be plagued with surveys popping up on your screen but sometimes the intent will be more malicious and the scammers will try to install some piece of malware** (malware being any nasty, undesirable piece of software such as virus, spyware, adware, keyloggers, backdoor, etc).

    Usually an install will need you to do something further like clicking on another link or accepting a download, but not always.

    The rogue Facebook application will most likely have also picked up all of your personal information** as well as this makes the survey responses so much more valuable. Unfortunately, even if you remove the rogue application, you won’t be able to get your data back. This is just one of the reasons for limiting the amount of information that you post to the web.

    ** Cleaning up an infection and reasons/ways to protect personally identifiable information are both on the list of planned articles so watch this space for more useful nuggets…

  3. Claire

    Great blog, I’m forever getting these on Facebook. Good to know what they actually are 🙂

    1. thegaryhawkins

      Hey Claire, thanks for stopping by.
      it might be worth checking your approved applications if you’ve clicked on any off them? Let me know I you see any others… always interested in new scams 🙂

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