Be careful where you click. Cybercriminals have sharpened their focus on Pinterest and Instagram. Con artists are targeting consumers with bogus free gift card offers on these popular social media platforms. We’ve seen the scheme before in spam emails and text messages (also known as phishing and smishing, respectively), but the crooks have adapted it to prey on amateur artists and photography fans. Let’s review how they try to scam you with fake images that look like real giveaways and coupons.
Fraud can be harder to spot because Pinterest and Instagram don’t operate like other websites and social media apps. On Facebook and Twitter, sham ads are almost always accompanied by text as well as a website url. It can be easier to spot spam messages when they’re repeated over and over on a Facebook page or a Twitter feed. Poor spelling and grammar, as well as a site domain from a foreign country, can also tip you off that the deal isn’t real.
Pinterest and Instagram are basically just pictures. Pinterest is an “online pinboard” where users can post photos, drawings or other images to a public profile. Users then share these images with their family and friends by “re-pinning” them. A popular image might be “re-pinned” by hundreds or even thousands of users. Instagram is an app for iPhone and Android smartphones where users can apply artistic filters to their photos. Users can also “follow” each other to share their photos, search for photos by keyword and subject and select their favorite photos by clicking a “love” button.
It’s harder to tell what’s real and what’s fake on these sites because the graphics often look like legitimate advertisements. Pinterest and Instagram are also much newer social media, so users may be less informed about how they work. There’s less data about the fraud committed on these sites compared to what we know about Facebook and Twitter.
“With Pinterest … it’s only a picture you have to click on or re-pin,” Catalin Cosoi, chief security for the antivirus software company BitDefender, told Mashable.com. “[And] when a service is new and there are a lot of users joining, there’s a false sense of security.”
These pictures advertise a variety of phony free offers, including $250 Visa gift cards, $1000 Best Buy gift cards or smaller gift cards to fast food restaurants like Wendy’s and Dunkin Donuts. On Pinterest, they usually originate from accounts with names that sound legitimate, such as “gotmineforless.com” or “pinterestgiveaway.com”.
When you add these pictures to your Pinterest pinboard, or even just click on the picture, you’re sent to a website that asks for your phone number, email and credit card information. Often, the website resembles a contest page with confusing fine print and entry rules.
The swindlers who run these gift card ploys use real company logos and often mimic the design of the company’s actual website. For example, a fake Best Buy gift card “giveaway” page might look like BestBuy.com. But these website are not affiliated or endorsed by the retailer. There’s no prize to win – just your own hard-earned money to lose.
How an “Innocent Click” Can Get You
On Instagram and the Pinterest mobile app, the pages load in your mobile Android or iPhone browser. If you keep clicking, you may be charged or signed up for a monthly mobile service. One Scambook member reported $19.98 in extra charges to their phone bill after they posted a Pinterest coupon and started receiving unwanted text messages. Another member reported that a false Pinterest prize deal signed them up for a $9.99/month subscription service.
As with any internet exploitation, your wallet isn’t the only thing at risk when you fall victim to a consumer hoax. These websites can install spyware, malware and viruses on your PC. If you do accidentally click on a counterfeit Pinterest offer, make sure you run your anti-virus software immediately.
Pinterest and Instagram are great ways to stay connected to your family and friends or meet new people who share your aesthetic tastes. Just remember to stay on the alert against the con artists who take advantage of social media to cheat honest users and rip you off.
Follow These Simple Tips to Stay Safe
Don’t “repin” the graphics, don’t follow the feed and don’t “love” the photo. If you see a fraudulent ad on Pinterest or Instagram, follow the links on those sites to flag it as spam and then ignore it.
Always remember to be very cautious when giving out your email, phone number, credit card number or other sensitive personal data online or over your mobile phone.
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