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DC Tech Talk: Spam, Wow!


June 3, 2013
By Stephane Laverdiere DC

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Facebook is currently the single most popular social networking site, with an impressive total of 1.1 billion users worldwide. Whether you are interested in connecting with old friends, finding new ones, playing online games or promoting your business, Facebook is the place to be. However, not everyone has these harmless intentions in mind when signing up for an account. The large number of users has attracted myriad scammers waiting to take advantage of their unsuspecting victims. There are various types of scams and you must be well-informed in order to avoid them.

Facebook is currently the single most popular social networking site, with an impressive total of 1.1 billion users worldwide. Whether you are interested in connecting with old friends, finding new ones, playing online games or promoting your business, Facebook is the place to be. However, not everyone has these harmless intentions in mind when signing up for an account. The large number of users has attracted myriad scammers waiting to take advantage of their unsuspecting victims. There are various types of scams and you must be well-informed in order to avoid them.

SPAM ANNOYING, BUT USUALLY HARMLESS
The most common type of scam that Facebook users encounter is spam. Useless messages filled with inaccurate information are being copy/pasted from wall to wall. These may include falsified news and prayer requests from complete strangers. Hacker alerts are also very popular, warning users not to accept friendship requests from certain individuals because that would compromise their personal information or their computers’ well-being. Other messages urge the user to re-post, claiming that an amount of money is being donated to charity every time these messages are re-posted. Bogus security warnings that supposedly originated from the Facebook Security Team also fall into this category.

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These messages are totally pointless and may cause a great deal of frustration but they rarely pose a threat. Because they lack time-sensitive information, they continue to circulate even decades after their original release. To identify spam messages you need to apply some critical thinking. Messages written in all-caps that contain endless strings of exclamation marks and grammatical errors are probably not trustworthy. Also, Facebook would certainly not rely on its users’ status updates to spread critical security alerts. Finally, any claim that there is a viable – and ethical – way of tracking how many times a message is being re-posted is completely unsubstantiated.

YOU CLICK, SCAMMERS GET PAID
Advertisers could not possibly pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the exposure their ads can get on Facebook. While the website allows advertisements to appear on its pages, some individuals or businesses seem to prefer more covert marketing strategies. Their modus operandi is rather simple; you receive a message or wall post that contains a link accompanied by a curiosity-inciting text. Once you click the link, you get redirected to a third-party website where you are asked to register in order to view the content. The website owner can then flood your e-mail inbox with advertisements. Pop-up ads may also appear if your browser’s Pop-up Blocker has not been enabled.

Pay-per-click websites work in a similar manner even though they usually require no registration. The mere act of clicking the link creates revenue for the scammer. While this technique is not dangerous per se, it can be used to collect personal information. It can also be harmful for your computer if the website contains malicious script, viruses or add-ons that are launched without your consent. To protect yourself from this type of scam, avoid clicking or copy/pasting suspicious links, especially if you have no idea how they ended up on your wall or inbox.

BEWARE of FREE PRIZES
Every now and then, free offers, discount coupons and giveaways from well-known brands appear on Facebook for users to take advantage of. When the user clicks on the relevant link, he is redirected to a third-party website. There, he is asked to complete a series of free surveys in order to claim the prize. These surveys are, of course, fake and they are never successfully completed. Since this method of “verification” fails, the user is prompted to part with valuable personal information or sign up for ridiculously overpriced short message services (SMS) to receive the details of the offer.

The same method applies to applications and quizzes that require you to register in order to get your results. Providing sensitive personal information such as your name, physical address and phone number to untrustworthy sources is never a good idea. Data collection companies make a fortune out of selling this type of information. If the website requires bank account and credit card information, you had better leave the page immediately. Identity theft and credit card scams have become more and more popular because of people who are easily convinced to provide sensitive information online. SMS service scams have also increased dramatically, leading to overblown telephone bills. This type of scam is not to be taken lightly.

NOT ALL FACEBOOK APPS ARE FUN
Rogue applications are the latest trend in Facebook scams. Because apps are provided by third-party developers, they are not monitored or controlled by Facebook itself. This allows scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting users. Every time you install an application, you implicitly allow it to access and use your personal information, such as your name and e-mail address, your friends’ list, photos and any public content appearing on your Facebook page. You also allow the application to automatically generate posts on your Wall. A rogue application will post itself on your Wall as soon as permission is granted, thus perpetuating the scam without your knowledge.

The story is then played out in the same manner as free prizes. You get redirected to third-party websites where you are required to complete the verification process described above, or sign up for overpriced SMS services. An added “bonus” of rogue applications is that they bait users to download spyware or other malicious software on their computer, thus compromising account information and passwords. If this does not sound like your idea of fun, you have to be very careful about the applications you choose to install. Should you install a rogue application, uninstall it the moment you find out and scan your computer for viruses. Most importantly, keep your personal information to yourself.

OTHER TRICKY FACEBOOK AFFAIRS
Privacy is a primary concern for Facebook users around the world. In other words, how safe the content you upload on the website is. There have been multiple reported cases where user photos have been stolen and used for obscure purposes. The latest Privacy Settings that Facebook implemented provide you with greater control over the amount of information you share with different groups of people. All you need to do is adjust them according to your preferences and avoid sharing information that you would not normally share with complete strangers.

There is no reason for you to panic or obsess over getting scammed. A few precautionary measures can ensure that your favourite pastime – or the venue you utilize to promote your practice – does not turn into a nightmare. Make sure that you are accessing your account on a secure browser page (https). Entering your username and password in a bogus login page may cause your login information to be stolen. Most importantly, educate yourself about Internet security issues. Keep up with the latest scams and learn how to identify them. Websites such as www.hoax-slayer.com, www.thatsnonsense.com or www.scambusters.org offer detailed resources about all kinds of current Internet scams.


Dr. Stephane Laverdiere is a 1995 graduate of the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois.  He is president and co-founder of Atlas Chiropractic Systems, a paperless office solution.  He is also founder of the Internet video marketing company, ChiroVMail. He can be contacted at 877-602-8527 or slaverdiere@atlaschirosys.com. Please  visit www.atlaschirosys.com and www.chiroVMail.com for more information on digital solutions for your practice.


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