Are your online selfies making you vulnerable to hackers? 4 scams to watch out for

Erica Gerald Mason
·7 min read

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Be careful about sending selfies - hackers are on the prowl. (photo: Getty)
Be careful about sending selfies - hackers are on the prowl. (photo: Getty)

Some online services ask you to confirm your identity by taking a photo of yourself holding your photo ID. It’s the easiest way to verify that you are you...right? The bad news: if that selfie with your photo ID gets into the hands of scammers, they can potentially steal your identity. Here’s how the scams operate and how to stay on guard.

Scam #1: The lure of a prize

One tactic hackers sometimes take to try and obtain a selfie of you with your photo ID is to exploit your excitement at the opportunity of a prize or money. For example, one afternoon you receive a scam phishing email [phishing means pretending to be from a reputable company but trying to trick you out of personal and sensitive information] informing you that a payment or a prize is waiting for you. It’s practically a done deal, the email says. All you have to do is click on the link and take one quick little picture of you and your ID. Easy peasy.

Except it’s a scam.

Clicking the link takes you to a phishing site, designed to milk you of your personal information.

They get your login credentials. Jab.

They install junk on your hardware. Jab.

They get you to take a picture of yourself with your id. Knockout.

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Scam #2: A phishing email pretending to be from a social media site

We all want one - the blue verified check mark next to your username on your social media account that verifies you as a user. That verification comes with social media credibility — and it can’t be bought. So it’s understandable that some people will do anything to get the check mark. And that's where the trouble starts, because scammers know this.

Beware of scam phishing emails trying to get you to send a selfie holding your photo ID (Photo: Getty)
Beware of scam phishing emails trying to get you to send a selfie holding your photo ID (Photo: Getty)

That desire right there is why some hackers are able to get their grubby little hands on your information. It comes in the form of an email, asking you to click on the link to verify your social media account. It leads to a phishing page, asking for all sorts of personal information the scammers can use to steal your identity. But there's a simple way to protect yourself:

“If you get an email from [a social media site] the first thing you should do is check the address the email came from," Melanie Musson, a security expert with FreeAdvice.com tells Yahoo Life.

Musson cautions not to just look at the name that appears in your inbox on that email — but to check the body of the email address to make sure it's authentic. "If you’re looking from your computer, when you open the email up, you’ll see the name the sender chooses to appear followed by the email address. If that reads [social media site] followed by number” or anything else besides [social media site].com, red flags should start flying.”

She says social media platforms will always send you a message through the app. When in doubt, go straight to the website or app. “If [the websites have] a message for you, it will show up on your account,” Musson says. “If the same message isn’t on their site, report your message to [the platform's security team].”

Scam #3: The promise of federal money

With stimulus money, tax season, and many people looking for a job, scammers take advantage of this vulnerability and ask for photo verification before you can get access to work, funds, or services.

The phishing email looks official and says it’s a communication mail from a bank, payment system, or government agency saying that you need to confirm your identity.

Clicking the link leads to a page with a form asking you to enter account info, payment details, address, telephone number and to upload a selfie with a clearly visible ID card. They have your info - and if they installed malware on your device, they could also have your computer.

"One of the most common ways attackers use malware is to launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, when threat actors force numerous devices to send requests to specific web servers to break the system and shut down traffic,” says James E. Lee, Chief Operating Officer, Identity Theft Resource Center. “Another use of malware is cryptomining, a malware attack that co-opts the target’s computing resources to mine cryptocurrency. Malware can also be used for keystroke logger attacks, where software logs everything you type, such as your login and password.”

Smiling Young Woman Showing Her Driving License From Open Car Window
Hackers don't just want a picture of your id - they want a picture of you holding your id. (photo: Getty)

Scam #4: A phishing email from scammers pretending to be a bank

Some legitimate services do require a selfie with photo ID for registration, like opening an online bank account. By sending a selfie of yourself with, say, your driver's license to scammers, these internet baddies can sell the information on the black market to other scammers. This information can be used for fraudsters to open bank accounts by using your name and photo ID.

The way around it? If you get an email or social media message claiming you need to send a selfie with a photo ID - stop. A financial institution will never ask for any information - much less a selfie with your driver's license or passport, over social media or via email. Don't click any links, and use your typical log-in methods to check your account. Any information your bank needs you to see will also be posted within your secure portal.

Overall, you should be very skeptical of requests to authenticate your identity. If you’re unsure about the validity of the request, call and ask. You won’t be the first person to call, and you won’t be the last. But wait! Don’t use the number scammers supplied in the email — get it instead on the official website. To help you stay on top of this, get a reliable antivirus program with protection against phishing and online fraud.

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