The $500m gift that doesn’t keep on giving

It’s Christmas time which can only mean one thing in the world of cyber security – festive-related scams.  It amazes me how many of my normally sensible friends somehow lose their sense of due diligence when presented with offers that simply look too good to be true on Social Media.

If someone we’d never met before came up to us in the street as we were doing our Christmas shopping and offered us $5,000 simply because they were feeling generous, we’d be very sceptical indeed.  But it appears that if that stranger appears to be a famous brand or a celebrity online, then all sense of precaution goes out of the window.

This week a scam was uncovered on Instagram that beggar’s belief, yet thousands seem to have been hoodwinked into giving away personal details.  Oprah Winfrey has over 40m followers on Twitter and around 11.3m on Instagram and is considered to be one of the most successful media stars in the US.  But would she really be giving away $500m to random followers on Social Media?  Well yes, if you believed the Instagram account @OwnChristmas.  To add some “authenticity” to the giveaway, a doctored Twitter message was added to the page, supposedly showing the promise to give away the cash from Winfrey’s verified Twitter account.

All you needed to do to get the cash was to send OwnChristmas their personal details including bank usernames.  It is unknown how many followed the instructions before the account was identified and removed from Instagram but significant damage could have been done.

It wasn’t only Oprah who was giving away cash to complete strangers – boxer Floyd Mayweather apparently was going to give $1,000 to the first fifty thousand followers of his new Instagram account – all people needed to do was follow him and send him a Direct Message as to how the money was to be paid, or in other words, to give a complete stranger your bank account details.  Whilst Mayweather is a successful sportsman, who motivation would be have to give complete strangers $50million?

Another ‘too good to be true’ offer that I saw this week was a free holiday for four to Hawaii, provided by First Choice on Facebook.  Now, there is a very well-known and successful holiday company called First Choice Holidays that has been operating for years in the UK.  This wasn’t anything to do with them, but the wording of the advert suggested it was something that one of their High Street stores was offering.  All you had to do was ‘like’ the offer, add a positive comment and someone would be in touch to confirm your entry via email.  The ad soon disappeared so we don’t know what the ultimate aim of those behind the scam were – it may have been simply to harvest some personal details that could be sold on, or they may have approach numerous ‘participants’ congratulating them on their win and asking for an admin fee to process the holiday.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to create scams on Social Media with little in the way of verification of adverts and offers.  Fraudsters also buy Social Media followers and likes to give their online presence a sense of authenticity for a few dollars.  Whilst the window of opportunity is normally limited before a tipping point of complaints force the Social Media networks to remove the offending adverts, all they need are a few to bite and submit personal or even financial details and they will be in significant profit.

Whilst many well-known brands will actively use Social Media to engage with customers, and many will offer competitions to build their social media footprint, they will never ask for information such as bank account details or usernames and passwords.  Always ask yourself if it’s too good to be true, and if it is then it is more than likely to be a scam.

Just because it is the season of giving, do not be one of those who are taken in.

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