Executives beware of social media scammers

Issue 6 2023 News & Events, Information Security

With the staggering rise of social media scams globally, business executives are increasingly targeted by cybercriminals seeking to exploit their personal and professional lives. WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram have become prime platforms for scammers to lure victims into their web of deception.

Social media scams have witnessed an alarming surge in recent years. In South Africa and worldwide, cybercriminals are exploiting the widespread use of social media platforms to perpetrate their illicit activities. While the most common forms of social media scams involve phishing, fake profiles, and financial fraud, a more targeted and insidious threat lurks for high-level business executives.

Dean Vorster, Chief Technology Officer at Zinia, explains, “Cybercriminals have adapted their strategies to focus on executives and high-level managers. Their primary objective is to obtain private photos or sensitive information that can be used for extortion and harassment. The modus operandi involves identifying key targets on social media, following them, hacking their accounts to access compromising content, and subsequently launching a targeted harassment campaign to extract a ransom.”

The psychology behind the scam

The psychology adopted by these scammers is both manipulative and coercive. They employ tactics that place their victims under immense pressure, employing relentless calls and threats to exploit the natural human response to fear. By leveraging the victim's anxiety and apprehension, they aim to create heightened emotional distress. This strategy is designed to keep the victim off balance, making them more susceptible to the scammer's demands. Threats to expose personal information to colleagues and clients intensify this anxiety, further increasing the victim's vulnerability. In essence, these scammers seek to control their target's emotions, using fear as a potent weapon to achieve their malicious goals.

How to spot a fake account

Scammers will take the time to research and plot their attacks. They will look for high-profile executives or individuals in senior positions whose careers and reputations would be affected by revealing personal photographs or information.

“Recognising the signs of a fake social media account is crucial in protecting yourself from scammers as this is their point of entry and where they will begin their attack,” says Vorster. He offers five tips to help you identify fake profiles:

Friend requests and followers: Be cautious of sudden friend requests or followers from unfamiliar accounts. Even if they have followed someone you know, do not accept their requests blindly. Scammers will use these tactics to gain access to your network.

Profile: Check the profile information thoroughly. Fake accounts often have incomplete or inconsistent details. Look for discrepancies in names, locations, and job titles.

<bPicture:<>/b> Examine the profile picture closely. Fake accounts frequently use stock photos or stolen images from the internet. Conduct a reverse image search if you suspect foul play.

Activity and engagement: Fake accounts typically have minimal activity and engagement. Be wary of profiles with limited posts, followers, or connections.

Content quality: Assess the quality of content shared by the account. Fake profiles often post generic or low-quality content. Look for unusual or inconsistent language use.

Securing your social media accounts

Vorster says, “Now that you know how scammers operate and how to spot fake accounts, it is essential to take proactive measures to secure your social media presence.”

Content: Be discerning about what you share online – photographs that reveal location, location check-ins, and personal opinions – as these all give attackers an understanding of you to build a well-thought-out and targeted attack.

Enable backup codes: Enable the ‘backup code’ option when creating a social media account. Store these codes securely, as they can help regain access to your account if it is compromised.

Use two-factor authentication (2FA): Implement two-factor authentication for your accounts. Utilise authentication apps like Google Authenticator, which provide an extra layer of security by requiring an authentication code for every login.

Strengthen passwords: Ensure your passwords are complex and unique. Avoid using personal information such as your name or birthdate, as these are easy for hackers to guess. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Regularly check login activity: Periodically review your login activity in the account settings. Look for any unusual devices or locations that may indicate unauthorised access.

Privacy settings: Keep your social media accounts private, especially for personal use. If you manage a business page or account, consider separating your personal and professional profiles to maintain your privacy.

In an era of escalating cyber threats, business executives must remain vigilant against the perils of social media scams. By understanding the tactics employed by scammers, recognising fake accounts, and implementing robust security measures, executives can protect their personal information, reputations, and businesses from the clutches of cybercriminals. Stay safe, stay secure, and navigate the digital landscape with confidence.

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