Justice Department warns of rapid growth in Snapchat scams: Internet Scambusters #1,053
Snapchat, the mobile app used to send photos that then quickly disappear, has become a favored hunting ground for scammers.
They've allegedly targeted kids as young as 13, asking for explicit photos, which they then use for blackmail.
In this week's issue we explore these "sextortion" tricks and other Snapchat scams with advice on how to spot, avoid, and deal with them.
Let's get started…
Snapchat Blackmailers Targeting Children
Young people, children even, have become a favorite target for scammers on the social media network Snapchat.
The main aim of the crooks is to trick these youngsters into sending explicit photos of themselves and then to blackmail them - a crime known as "sextortion."
The mobile app's developers claim they have 300 million users and nearly half of them are said to be in the 15-25 years age group.
Snapchat is mainly used for posting photos and videos - "snaps" - that can disappear after a few seconds.
Just last month, US Attorney Mark Totten announced charges against a Florida man for alleged "coercion and enticement of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor, and receipt of child pornography in connection with an alleged sextortion scheme." The victim was said to be a 13-year-old girl from Michigan.
The youngster and the accused allegedly got involved in an explicit conversation, which the accused then threatened to publish online if the girl did not send him compromising photos of herself.
FBI Sextortion Tips
The FBI suggests the following actions to share with youngsters and to protect yourself from this type of scheme:
- Don't reveal too much about yourself online.
- Be cautious about new people you meet online.
- Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Remember that photos and videos are not proof that a person is who they say they are.
- Be wary if someone you meet on a game or app suggests getting together on another social media site.
- Remember you have no control over something you sent. Nothing actually disappears online.
- If something doesn't feel right, block the sender.
Of course, the main defense against this type of scam is simply to refuse to send compromising photos and texts to anyone. Anyone.
Above all, ask for help if you need it. Youngsters should tell an adult if they've been victimized online.
Michigan FBI special agent James Tarasca says: "The use of the internet to threaten and manipulate children into producing sexually explicit images and then threatening to share or publish those images to get the victims to produce more is predatory conduct that is very harmful to minor victims…
"Reporting to law enforcement is the brave first step toward holding these predators accountable for their actions."
Scammers may also use dating sites and then suggest moving their conversation to Snapchat where, again, they may ask for explicit photos.
Attorney Totten said: "Sextortion is on the rise and represents a real and present danger to every child, teenager, and user of social media. We will use every power at our disposal to protect our most vulnerable community members from this emerging threat."
5 More Snapchat Scams
Sadly, sextortion is not the only scam that Snapchat users face. Other tricks include:
- A friend in need. Not unlike the well-known grandparent scam, crooks use a fake or hijacked profile of a friend or relative and ask to "borrow" money that has to be sent to the scammer's account.
- These phony friends may also say they have a great money-making opportunity, asking for money to supposedly set up the victim's account.
- Another fake friend trick involves the scammer claiming they've been locked out of their account, so they ask to temporarily use the victim's account. Of course, they then need to know your username and password!
- Fake Snapchat messages with a link to a bogus sign-on page, which is used for phishing.
- Bogus "Premium Snapchat" offers. Crooks pretend to offer access to a special area of the site where they can see adult content. They ask for payment in advance via a cash app like Venmo, then you never hear from them again.
More Tips to Avoid Snapchat Scams
Internet security firm Aura, which has taken a lead in trying to prevent and ensure against Snapchat and other online scams advises users to be suspicious of all links and even QR codes, even if they seem to come from friends.
If something seems amiss in a communication from a supposed friend, contact them directly to check it's really them and to let them know their account may have been hacked.
- Don't share your login credentials with anyone
- Ignore or beware of threatening messages that appear to come from Snapchat. The company doesn't do that.
- Use good and up to date security software.
- Use strong and hard to guess passwords.
- Use two-factor authentication (2FA) requiring a second numeric code (via text or an authenticator app) every time you log in.
- Use privacy settings to limit who can see your Snaps and your location on Snap Map.
Spot a Fake Profile
Finally, MinuteHack, a site for entrepreneurs, says one of your best defenses is to be able to spot a fake Snapchat profile.
Red flags include: a person claims to be an influencer but has a low Snap score; their map location doesn't match where they say they are; they don't have a Bitmoji - an avatar used by most Snapchatters; and their photos seem too good to be true. You can use a Google image search to check almost any online photo to see where it comes from.
This Week's Scam Alerts
Tech jobs: The recent wave of layoffs in the tech industry has prompted scammers to step up their fake-jobs game. These fraudsters may offer fake interviews, ask for confidential information including Social Security numbers and ask for upfront payment for background checks or initial supplies.
They promise you'll be reimbursed in your first paycheck, which, of course, never arrives. Check out everything carefully before proceeding with job applications and offers, and don't provide personal and financial information until you've done so.
Tax time: Yes, it's that time of year again when crooks steal tax refunds and send out fake messages pretending to come from the IRS. Security experts report an alarming rise in "vishing" - the use of phone calls and voice mails. Sometimes, the scammers spoof genuine numbers and use voice-alteration software to make their call sound real. We've covered most tax scams several times over past years. Check them out here.
Don't show: Two separate, recent Facebook posts from a popular site asked readers to post a selfie and to give their date of birth - supposedly for fun. Hundreds of people responded. Crazy or what? Facebook is used by scammers, hackers, and dubious marketers to compile profile information about users. These responders potentially walked straight into their hands. Never post personal information or photos of yourself on open pages like this, which are accessible to almost everyone.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.