Social media-related scams on the rise as people spend more time online during COVID-19 pandemic

Jason Knowles Image
Saturday, May 16, 2020
Social media scams rise as people spend more time online
With stay-at-home orders in place and many working from home, people are spending more and more time online and scammers know it.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hundreds of online COVID-19 scams were recently thwarted by the Justice Department, and one cybersecurity firm said it's tracking "record-breaking" levels of cybercriminal activity.

Another security group said they are seeing social media scams on the rise, and is warning people to watch what they post as everyone spends more time at home and online.

Identity Theft Resource center said half of all scams it's seeing are now related to social engineering, which is when scammers slowly gather your information on social media and open a line of credit or steal your identity.

"It's really important for people to remember that all those little tidbits of information can be used to socially engineer pieces of their identity, their profile, and I don't think that we think about the fact that we are sharing maybe about a medical condition we have on Facebook. That's medical health data that you are putting out there," said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of Identity Theft Resource Cneter.

Velasquez is warning people not to overshare, especially during the pandemic when many people may be spending more time looking at a screen.

"We are spending a lot more time online and generally engaging and getting that social need that we have through the online platforms," she said. "So we may very likely be sharing a lot more information, a lot more personal and private information, and a lot more detailed information about ourselves and our lives without really thinking about, I need to think about my privacy and protecting that information."

If hackers see too much personal information about you, you can be the victim of social engineering.

Chicago's Trustwave said according to its recent global security report, social engineering scams are surging

"Social engineering became half of the comprises we saw, compared to just a third in 2018 the prior year. From 33% in 2018, up to 50% in 2019." explained tech security expert Karl Sigler of Trustwave.

Besides potential oversharing by social media users, there's another reason for the rise.

"Our computers are getting more secure in a certain sense and our software is getting more secure in a certain sense. These criminals, these attackers are having to target the individuals behind those devices to get access," Sigler said.

Social engineering scammers are using details like your high school, graduation year, hometown, grandmother's name or mother's maiden name to eventually use against you.

"The best way to explain it is to think about your identity as a puzzle," Velasquez said. "There are all of these different pieces that go into it. And depending on which pieces are compromised, or you self compromise, that can give someone other than you a better, fuller picture of that puzzle."

You can put your social media settings on private to increase your protection, and remember not to overshare.

You should also beware of social engineering scams which can come in the form of suspicious phishing emails asking for your personal information.