Commentary

Social Scams on the Upswing

If you feel like you’ve been seeing more scammy spam on social media, it’s not just your imagination: social media scammers redoubled their shady efforts as 2013 drew to a close, according to online security firm Bitedefender.

No surprise, Facebook saw a big surge in scam activity, with the total number of scams tracked by Bitedefender almost doubling from December 2012 to December 2013; this year’s crop includes 10,000 free voucher scams circulating on people’s timelines, which “promise gifts for loved ones but deliver fraudulent surveys designed to grab their money and financial details,” as well as 440 stalker scams using variants of the “guess who viewed your profile” come-on.

Bitedefender also identified 139 scams involving charity and donations -- a 10% increase in this seasonal blight preying on holiday sentimentality. The company noted that in these scams, “cyber-criminals go as far as using heart-wrenching photos of disfigured children and images of bed-riddled cancer victims, which they steal from the Internet.” Another favorite is “intelligence surveys” aiming to steal social media users’ identities by asking them for personal information.

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Bitedefender’s figures jibe with other research on scams and spam. In September Nexgate released a report detailing 355% increase in the volume of social media spam in the first half of the year, with five new spammers detected for every seven new social media accounts created. More spammers are found on Facebook and YouTube than any other social site by a margin of 100 to 1, according to Negate, and Facebook experiences more than four times the number of phishing attacks and spam using personally identifiable information that other networks experience.

The increase in spam is due in part to bots and fake accounts, as well as applications created to churn out and activate unwanted marketing messages; Nexgate calculates that around 5% of all social apps are “spammy.” Other new methods include “Like-jacking,” where something that looks like a simple “Like” button actually downloads malware or takes the user to an unwanted destination.

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