Answer Woman: Why are people hacking my social media accounts? How do I stop it?
ASHEVILLE - Today’s burning question involves addressing and preventing cybercriminal activity and holiday scams. Have a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email Executive Editor Karen Chávez at KChavez@citizentimes.com and your question could appear in an upcoming column.
Question: “I was born BC, before computers. While I have developed reasonable competency my skill set is far from what it is for the younger generation. Many of my friends including myself have individuals impersonating us and trying to get individuals to friend them using our names. How does that kind of hacking occur and other than being smart enough not to respond what can you do to stop it? Is there any way the hacker can be identified?”
Answer: Social media is all fun and games until someone makes a duplicate social media account impersonating you and sends a new request to connect to everyone on your friend list.
It’s happened to the best of us ― no matter the age or computer literacy level ― but it makes it no less frustrating or violating.
This question took me down a rabbit hole of information as to the many ways cybercriminals take advantage of and scam Internet users.
It goes well beyond social media.
And since we’re in the high-activity season of online scams, online holiday shopping safety tips are included, as well.
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Social media impersonation
Cybercrime Support Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports individuals and small businesses affected by cybercrimes, cites several reasons why a cybercriminal creates accounts impersonating social media users including to connect to the user’s friends to convince them to send money; to steal the user’s personal and sensitive information like where they live and work bank accounts and Social Security numbers; to gain access to the user’s account to post fake content and drive traffic to another account; and to exploit the user by posting inappropriate images or videos or prompting followers to send money.
Further acts of fraud, financial and personal information loss and a damaged reputation are among the many ways this can have a negative impact on the user and their followers, the organization states.
The first step to take in combating the impersonators is to report the account to the social media platform. Often, there will be a tab on the profile’s page to “report profile” which the platform will review and address – ideally deleting the fake account.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, provides guidelines for reporting fake accounts and recognizing signs that a user account or page is a scam: facebook.com/business/learn/lessons/impersonation-page-profile-account and facebook.com/business/learn/lessons/how-spot-avoid-scams.
Users can make it more difficult for cybercriminals to impersonate or steal information by strengthening their online security, according to Cybercrime Support Network. Use stronger, unique passwords that are different from other websites and enable multifactor authentication, which will require entering a verification code that’s sent directly to the user’s phone or email.
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Users are advised to avoid oversharing or posting personal information that can make it easier for someone to impersonate. That includes posting text, photos or video that shows details like home addresses or license plate numbers.
Also, consider updating the account’s privacy settings to limit access to what people who aren’t approved followers can see. To perform a “privacy checkup” on Facebook, go to the privacy setting listed under your account or visit facebook.com/privacy/checkup/.
Online holiday shopping tips
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein addressed the issue of scams during the holiday season in a recent newsletter, stating: “For people across North Carolina, we are in the season of giving. But for others, it’s the season of stealing. Criminals use the holidays to take advantage of people’s goodwill to take their money and personal information. They target vulnerable people and use common holiday activities and stressors as a ploy to trick them. As you enjoy the holidays with friends and family, watch out for common signs of scams to help you and your loved ones steer clear of criminals.”
Stein warns of scammers setting up fake websites with products to lure rushed, last-minute shoppers but designed to take the person’s money and personal information. Instead of clicking on a pop-up ad, go directly to a business’s website to make a purchase, which can be verified by double checking the URL and looking for the lock icon and the "https:" at the beginning of the web address which means the connection is secure.
“When you shop online, be careful how you pay. Be sure to pay by credit card and keep receipts in case there's an issue and you need to be refunded,” Stein said in the newsletter. “Credit cards offer some protection if something goes wrong with your order. Never trust someone who asks you to pay them with pre-paid gift cards, via wire transfer, or with cryptocurrency. Online markets that won’t accept a credit card are probably a scam.”
Also, go directly to the business or delivery company’s website to track packages and avoid clicking on a link sent by email or text message, as it may be a phishing message from a scammer. Stein notes that shipping companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon do not request personal information via email or text messages.
Track packages to prevent them from being left on a porch or outside a home where thieves can quickly and easily take them. Stein advises planning for mail and packages or delayed delivery if an authorized person isn’t present to accept them.
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Stein warns of holiday scams focused on charitable donations, too:
“People increase their charitable donations during the holidays, so criminals create charity scams to take advantage of people’s generosity. Give to charities you know to avoid these scams. Donating directly to the organization on their website helps you steer clear of fake crowdfunding and social media campaigns, illegitimate websites, and sham organizations. Check with my office or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance if you’re unsure of an organization’s authenticity.”
Victims of scams are encouraged to file a complaint with the Attorney General Office's Consumer Protection Division at ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/ or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
Nazneen Ahmed, the Attorney General Office’s press secretary, provided additional tips for Internet safety:
Regularly update your antivirus and security software.
Don’t be fooled by unexpected emails asking you to click a link or download an attachment.
Don’t use email to send and receive personal information.
Never give out your Social Security, driver’s license or bank account numbers. Be suspicious if someone asks for your passwords or any information used to install or access your Internet service.
Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission at email@example.com.
Monitor your financial statements and credit report for irregularities.
If you believe you may have been the victim of a hack, request a free security freeze and contact our office.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a ransomware attack, report it to the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service immediately.
Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Social media hacking, Internet scam safety tips