Everyone loves free stuff, and social media has taken on the world of giveaways. Some are legitimate, but many are not.
You may have seen the latest one on Facebook, this time giving away an RV.
Hopefully, your spidey senses perked up and you thought, "This is too good to be true." You were right. But is it dangerous to share these giveaways on the off chance you could actually win an RV?
But here's the problem. What's really going on is "Facebook farming" or "like-farming." And as we saw with the RV giveaway post, the technique is going strong.
Here's how it works: Scammers create a post that grabs your attention, usually with some sort of emotional trigger encouraging you to like, click and share, with a promise to win big.
Alexandra Panaretos, the Americas Cybersecurity Lead for Secure Culture Activation at EY, defines Facebook "like-farming" as "a technique that spammers and criminals use to obtain as many followers or 'likes' as possible, through exploitation, manipulation and/or deception."
Panaretos said the farming often takes the form of "liking" an ill child's picture, a giveaway or contest, but the goal is to link your profile with the post or the website to which it sends you. The posts are designed to take your information.
"These are dangerous to the average citizen, but even more so for military members. It is uncomplicated to manipulate people online," she said.
So not only do you look foolish for sharing or liking a fake giveaway, you're now the target of at least one more scam. Or worse.
Selling your personal information, even if it's just what's on your locked-down social media, is a risk you don't want to take. We're not necessarily talking about operational security here, but we are definitely talking about personal security (PERSEC).
So how can you tell if it's a scam? Here are a few quick things to look for:
1. Check the page creation date. If it's within the last few weeks, it's not legit.
2. Look at the pictures. Are they real? Are they from Pinterest?
3. Review the page's timeline. If there is just one post and it's the giveaway, that should be a clue.
4. Look at the "about" section for a legit website, phone number or email. Not there? Not real.
5. Do they say, "Unfortunately, our first winner (insert name and hometown here), was ineligible to claim the prize?" Scam! Move on.
Now, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention there are, in fact, legitimate giveaways on social media. However, they are pretty obvious too. There are rules for giveaways on Facebook and Instagram.
Bobbie Anne Williams, a marketing assistant with Germono Advertising, shared one way to tell whether a giveaway is legitimate.
"Requiring someone to share a post on either Facebook or Instagram for entry into a giveaway is actually against the platform's guidelines," Williams said.
So, you can actually enter without sharing. Williams also cautioned to use your best judgment when clicking on links that take you away from the social media platform or sharing information such as your email or address with them, unless you trust the company.
The bottom line here is that when you share a fake giveaway, you're opening yourself up to, at best, ridicule and, at worst, identity theft. While this may not be the end of the world, if you share an account with your service member spouse, things can get dicey quickly.
Panaretos advocates for military spouses to be really, really careful about what they post online.
"I'm always surprised at how much information people post on social media, falsely believing it's a safe environment. If it's online, assume it's public. Privacy does not exist," she said.
But she does break it down a little further and suggests these three things:
1. Remove all pictures of children and those in military uniforms from public-facing profile pages.
2. Stop discussing how tough it is to be home alone, alone at night, or while your service member is gone for training in posts that can be viewed by strangers.
3. Stop updating personal information on your profile, including graduation information, workplace, hometown, etc.
"If it's on the internet, it's public information somewhere, and can never be completely deleted. Assume everything you post has the ability to become a billboard or the next viral offering," Panaretos said.
So at the very least, stop sharing fake giveaways, and maybe spend more time thinking about whether the whole Facebook world needs to know your birthday. (It doesn't.)
Stay safe online, military spouse.
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