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Consumer Rights.

3 June 2021

How to spot a social media scam

Social media scams can quickly spread across social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Understand how they work and take steps to protect yourself with our six top tips.
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Which?Editorial team

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How social media scams work

Social media scams are usually cunningly crafted by a scammer to appear genuine, using official brand logos, made up T&Cs and including a link to enter your details.

Unbeknown to the victim, clicking on these links sends your personal information to third parties, while also triggering the share feature to your connections, sometimes with an added status message.

Friends and family are then more likely to fall for the scam as they are likely to see the message and link as a trusted endorsement.

Our top six tips to spot a scam

Use our handy tips to try and safeguard yourself against falling for these sophisticated social media scams.

Key Information

1. Is the deal too good to be true?

Scammers will often pretend to be from legitimate and trustworthy sources, offering an enticing incentive to click through to a ‘too good to be true’ deal.

So, the first thing you should do is try doing a quick search for the promotion. If the company, organisation or brand is promoting a deal on social media, they are likely to also be promoting it on their homepage.

2. Inspect the URL

Closely inspect any URLs you aren’t sure about. Does the URL look suspicious? Does it match the URL of the company website?

Sometimes enticing posts on social media link to a fake login page, and when you enter your email and password, you’re actually giving those details to a scammer. 

Always check that the URL matches the social media website you’re using if you’re redirected to a login page after clicking a link in a post.

3. Check your timeline

Are you seeing an unusually high volume of the same status being shared? This should ring alarm bells that it may be a scam, especially if the post message is the same for more than a few people.

4. Check the branding

Check the post for branding inconsistencies. Are they using the right logo? Is this the standard of design and care for presentation you usually see from the brand?

If it’s a new brand entirely, go to its profile page and have a proper look at how it’s presenting themselves. Do they look professional or does it look like a quick and sloppy job?

5. Send a message

Send a private message to your friend or family member asking them if they posted the status. They may not have realised the status was going to be automatically published and they may now realise the link they followed was part of scam.

But, be careful - they may still think it was genuine. Trust your instincts and remain suspicious, if you’re not convinced. It’s better to miss out on one deal than give away your person details for scammers to sell on the black market.

6. Contact the company

You could reach out to the organisation, company or brand to find out if the deal is genuine. Don’t do this by clicking on any links in the post you believe could be a scam. 

Instead, search for the company’s real homepage and contact them via a social media account, email address or telephone number you find on there.

Whatsapp social media scams

Scams on social media aren’t just confined to platforms like Twitter and Facebook anymore. We’ve seen an increasing number of scams using the smartphone messaging app, Whatsapp.

Often these scams are very similar to the social media scams you might see on Facebook and Twitter, as they often feature promotional deals and competitions that are too good to be true.

We’ve seen scammers use Whatsapp as a platform to try and scam people into thinking they are getting a great deal from Sainsbury’s and Emirates.

The promotional message is sent straight to the phone of a victim, calling on the recipient to click the link in order to claim their prize. Clicking on the link will often lead you to a website survey that will require you to fill in your personal information before the ‘prize’ is sent to you.

When the survey is completed, sometimes you may be asked to select Whatsapp friends to share the deal with. The promotional message and link will then be sent to all of those contacts selected in a group chat message, continuing the spread of the scam.

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Fake social media adverts

Rather than depending on your friends and family to share a scam on social media, we have also seen scammers pretend to be advertisers.

The scammers create social media accounts and pay to have their scam message advertised to you in your timeline.

They are trying to exploit the credibility of social media advertising, understanding that you’ve grown used to seeing and trusting offers from genuine advertisers on social media.

Stay vigilant when you see new companies, organisations or brands pop up on your feed. You should also be suspicious if you see a new social media account advertising for a company you know well. It may be a scammer pretending to be a new branch or new account for that brand.