How to spot a cyber threat on social media

For many of us, it has become an everyday practice to share aspects of our personal lives on social media, through pictures of our pets or posting birthday wishes to our loved ones. But just like on other platforms, cyber threats, like phishing scams, exist on social media. It’s important to remain vigilant when connecting with people through social media, whether we know them in real life or not. Here are a few ways to protect yourself from phishing scams on social media.

a person looks at their phone with a shocked expression, with friend requests and exclamation marks in the background

Spotting a phishing scam

Malicious links are not only sent through emails or texts. They can be sent to your direct messages on social media. But how can we tell the difference between a perfectly safe link to a cute cat video and a link to malware?

If you are just receiving the message without context or with context that seems strange (such as offering you a deal on a product, claiming they have a picture of you hidden by a link, or saying someone that you know passed away, etc.), don’t click. When people’s accounts are hacked, scammers will use them to send phishing messages to all their contacts. To check the message, contact the person who sent the link through another medium to make sure the link is actually from them.

Company accounts can also be hacked and used to send phishing messages. If a message ever seems suspicious, exercise caution and do not click it. If a company sends you a link that you aren’t sure about, type it into your browser instead of clicking on the link directly.

Fake friend requests

If you receive a friend request from a friend’s ‘new’ account, always double check that it’s really from them by messaging them on another platform. Cyber criminals will often pretend to be someone you know by copying their profile to trick you. Don’t provide any personal information or click on any links or attachments unless you have confirmed the person’s identity. You should also be cautious about accepting friend requests from people you don’t know for the same reason.

Contests and giveaways

If you receive a message exclaiming you’ve been gifted money, services or products, be cautious. If you don’t remember entering the contest or giveaway, it’s likely a scam. Some scams can be very crafty and target you specifically, such as impersonating a recent purchase or service you signed up for. Always reach out to the individual or organization sending the message using another platform to confirm that the offer is real. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Urgent requests

If you have ever received a message from a friend or family member asking for your help urgently, you’re not alone. Urgent request scams happen when cyber criminals use social media accounts and impersonate people to mislead their followers. They use urgent or threatening language that demand that you act quickly or there will be consequences, like saying they need your help right now or else they’ll be arrested. Always pause before you respond and consider whether your friend or family member would make this request in real life.

Preventing phishing scams on social media

To protect your social media accounts from being affected by phishing scams, always do the following:

  • Be careful about the information you share on social media, and question whether a cyber criminal could use it to steal from you.
    • Examples of information you should avoid sharing publicly include your address, birth date and payment information.
  • If a message seems off, trust your instincts and do not click on the links or open the attachments.
  • Spread awareness about the signs of phishing and how to best protect yourself and those around you.

Conclusion

Social media allows us to connect to others both locally and across the globe. And cyber criminals try to exploit those connections and steal from us. By knowing the signs of cyber threats on social media and how to protect yourself and your accounts, you will be able to connect safely with family and friends.

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