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Avoiding Scams on Popular Social Media Networks

How crooks use platforms to connect and steal

Social media icon logos on paper cubes

Anatolii Babii / Alamy Stock Photo

En español | Facebook and other large social media platforms try hard to create a digital space that you'd want to hang out in: pleasant, attractive and safe for you, friends, family and like-minded acquaintances to gather and share. But it is exactly this casual, upbeat feel that makes the major sites a ripe hunting ground for digital crooks. Here are some of the scams we at the AARP Fraud Watch Network have seen involving social media — as well as some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim.


This platform is in large part about following the photo and video posts of your favorite celebrities or hobbyists. But crooks can see who you follow, and often use personalized direct messages (DMs) based on your interests to hook you. For example, if you follow the hashtag #Spain, someone might DM you what looks like a bargain on cheap airline tickets to Madrid or Barcelona, but it may turn out to be a scam. Follow a celebrity and you might get a DM from someone pretending to be that celebrity, or a member of his or her team, asking for a charitable contribution.

Tip: Keep your profile settings secure. And don't respond to any unsolicited messages.

Google Hangouts

It's supposed to be a place to chat with friends, share pictures and even make phone calls. But there have been recent reports of rip-offs originating there. The latest: employment scams. You've been talking on social media about looking for a job, for example, and you receive an email offering you a job and your first paycheck in advance. All you need to do is send a portion of it back for “application fees.” Of course, the check will bounce, and the job is a mirage.

Tip: You'll never be asked to send money to get a job. And no employer is going to pay you before the job starts. Avoid all offers like this.

Words With Friends

We often hear about romance scams on this popular digital game. After playing a couple of rounds with a stranger, you might be told, “Wow, you are really smart. I'd like to meet you.” Then you'll get a pitch: “My daughter needs an operation. Can you help?”

Tip: It is best to play games only with people you know. If you do play with strangers, never disclose personal or financial information.


Many people have an inflated sense of security about this social platform because the networks are supposed to be limited to your neighbors. But we've gotten reports of criminals posting fake car sales or contractors for hire — even pretending to be nannies. They want your information so they can steal your money.

Tip: Don't assume you can trust an online stranger, even one who claims a local connection. Use neighborhood apps to keep up with events, not as a marketplace.


Friending an account from a scammer allows the crook to have access to your profile and make a cloned account. Scammers also can clone an account from someone you are already friends with and send you another friend request, hoping you will automatically accept, giving them access to your personal information.

Tip: Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know personally. And if you're already friends, don't accept a second request.

Amy Nofziger is the director of, and Mark Fetterhoff an anti-fraud adviser to, the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.