The first line of defense, of course, is to think carefully about responding to any invitations you receive on Facebook. Does the offer make sense given its apparent source? Does the language sound like something your friend would write? Are there spelling errors or too-good-to-be-true offers?
Given the variety and changing nature of the problem, it's worth visiting some of the Facebook pages that regularly post reliable information about recent scams. One favorite is Sophos, a security software maker, which maintains an active Facebook page at Facebook.com/SophosSecurity. Sophos also offers an extensive guide to adjusting your Facebook settings to minimize potential damage at the company website.
Another valuable resource is Scam Sniper. If you click "Like" for this page, they will post Facebook fraud updates directly to your News Feed, where they're hard to miss.
For more expert assistance, we like a free Facebook app service called Norton Safe Web, which is made by the same people who created the popular Norton Antivirus software line. It will scan all the links in your News Feed and check them against a list of known problems, returning a list of safe links, those that are potential problems and those that the service hasn't tested. You can also choose to have your News Feed scanned automatically — you will be notified if trouble spots appear.
Even with these early warning detectors, it pays to be vigilant. You should ask yourself these questions:
- Is a link trying to take you away from Facebook to an outside site? That's not always a problem, of course, but it should make you extra cautious.
- When you click, are you being asked to install software? That's a giant red flag.
- Did Facebook pop up a Permissions screen? That happens even with legitimate Facebook applications, but take a careful look at just what's being requested. For example, do you really want to allow someone else to be able to post information to your News Feed, where all your friends can see it?
Requests to give out personal information are a common tactic of Facebook fraudsters. Give out your personal email address or phone number and you can expect a flood of spam offers. Give out your credit card information and you can expect much worse.
If you do fall for a scam that posts itself to your wall, be sure to remove it as soon as possible, to keep friends from joining in your folly — there's a little "x" in the top corner of each post to delete it. An additional post apologizing for the mistake and warning your friends is a good idea, too.
Finally, if you are accessing Facebook from a public Wi-Fi hot spot, make sure you're using a secure connection. If not, there's an easy-to-use piece of software that lets other users on the same network watch your Facebook activity, and even post in your name.
To ensure you're connecting securely, go to the "Account" drop-down menu at the top right of your Facebook page and choose "Account Settings." You'll find "Account Security" listed in the first column. Clicking on "Change" will reveal a checkbox to "Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible" — that's the one you want to click to maintain your privacy when Facebooking on the road.