9 pro tips for avoiding online deception
1. Never accept an invitation from someone you don’t recognize — or, worse, from just “Facebook User” — without a photo.
2. Be suspicious of messages on Facebook Messenger or Instagram, especially when they veer into areas where you are directed to take action or divulge personal information. This holds true even if you recognize the person or have talked in the past on social media platforms. If you aren’t sure who’s doing the typing, contact your real friend in another fashion (a phone call, email or text message) to confirm he or she sent the information. Chances are good that an unusual message is fake.
3. Block the person who sent you the message, and report the incident to Facebook right away from within Messenger. On the app, tap the profile photo, scroll down, and tap Block. Then tap Report to report the issue. On the desktop version, tap the Options icon (three dots), then tap Blocking in the left rail, then Edit, next to Block message. You can also send a message to Facebook at email@example.com.
4. Use common sense. Never pay for something that you know, or are being told, is free. If you must pay something to receive a grant, a gift or anything similar, it’s a scam. Fake lotteries, loans and requests for charitable donations are other pitches you may receive from your “friends.”
5. Watch out for distress schemes or grandparent scams, in which you get a message or a phone call that appears to be from a relative saying the loved one needs money because of a situation they got into. When in doubt, contact the person you know outside of social media.
6. Be suspicious of attachments, whether they are sent over Facebook Messenger or in an email or text. They may contain malware. Be equally cautious with links to a website. If you accidentally click and land on a page that is supposed to look like Facebook — it may have a similar blue logo and familiar layout — you’ll see that the name of the website in the link at the top of the page is different.
7. Don’t think you can spot scams because of misspellings, awkward phrasing or bad grammar. Those used to be clues to fraud, but con artists are getting increasingly sophisticated. Some friend requests are from artificial intelligence bots, which can be difficult to detect.
8. Change your password often. Many of us are guilty of not regularly changing passwords or of using the same password for most or all online activity. While it’s less convenient, also enable two-factor authentication. That way, you’ll need not only your password to log in to Facebook or Instagram but also a onetime code sent to your mobile device to confirm that it’s really you.
9. Enable automatic updates so the operating systems on your desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet are updated whenever software patches to vulnerabilities are released. On a related note, be sure to use software to protect against computer viruses and keep it up to date.