Wednesday 28 November 2012

'Tis the season..... to be scammed!

As Christmas approaches, the scammers redouble their efforts to line their pockets. After all, they want loads of extra money to have themselves a very merry little Christmas, don't they?

Some scammers don't even want to make money out of you, like the traditional "good old fashioned" virus writers, they just want you to waste your precious time. And at this time of year, when everyone is busier than ever, it gives them some kind of perverse kick to think of all those complete strangers whose time they are wasting.

We  compers are particularly vulnerable to scams. After all, there are thousands of perfectly fair and legitimate competitions out there, so it can be very easy to go ahead and enter a fraudulent one by mistake. 

Fake comps are popping up more and more as Christmas approaches, especially on Facebook and Twitter, so here are some of the things to look out for:
  • no profile. The "about" section either hasn't been filled in or has some very sketchy info, with no website, no contact details and no signs of it being an active, legitimate business.
  • nothing but competitions. Nothing else in the timeline - no chat, no adverts for products and services, and often no chat with friends and followers
  • no external links, or only links to very similar pages. No sign that they are doing any kind of business with anyone else
  • prizes that are too good to be true. Often highly desirable things like computers, TVs and phones, and yet there is no obvious sign of how they are going to pay for the prize as there are none of the above signs of them being a business
  • no closing date. Often a sign that the competition is simply never going to close - that way nobody can accuse them of not having played fairly!
  • no terms and conditions. Again, you can't accuse them of not having stuck to the rules if there aren't any! 
  • a general bad "feel" about it. This is something you can only pick up  from experience - there are businesses who are new to social media, and new to running competitions, who might tick all the above boxes, simply because they ARE new to it all, but somehow their page will have a more genuine feel to it..... you'll feel comfortable that there is a real human being trying their best to get noticed by potential customers.

One way to check whether a competition is a scam is to send a message, either by tweeting or writing on the wall, because if it's  just been set up by a scammer and left to run automatically there won't be anyone around to read and respond to you.

So why do these scam competitions matter? You may be thinking, "I enter loads of competitions that I don't win - what harm could a scam one do to me? It will just be one more that I don't win, so why waste time checking that it is real?"

Well, except in the case of those produced simply as a time waster, the scammers DO want something from you, and if you enter their competition they will get it.
  • They may want your data. Once you have liked, followed, shared and so on, they know your account is active, and they cans ell lists of active accounts to other scammers and spammers. If you have used an app that gives them access to your email address or other personal info, they will be even happier as they and their customers have multiple ways of spamming you and your friends or followers. For instance, one recent one on Facebook resulted in entrants getting spam advertising dating sites.
  • They may want to get you involved in what is known as a "survey scam" where you are sent short, often single question surveys with promises of prizes. Not only do the prizes never arrive, they will at some stage ask for your mobile number and then you could start to receive unwanted texts  that can cost you several pounds each.
  • They may want access to your profile. If you authorise an app that allows them to post on your profile, as  we do with so many competitions on Facebook and Twitter, they may not draw the line at just "Jane Willis has entered this competition - why don't you?". You could log in one day to find that you appear to have spent the last few hours trying to sell your friends diet pills, unique business opportunities or photos of Britney f***ing! Each message, of course, will contain a link to their website.
  • They may even be trying to get hold of enough information from you for identity theft or to hack into your account and take it over completely.
So, exercise a little caution and avoid any competitions that give you an uncomfortable feeling. And remember to change your Facebook and Twitter passwords regularly, make sure the two are not the same, and review all the apps you have authorised from time to time, revoking access to any that you don't recognise or no longer use.

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