As more and more people turn to social media, scammers are heading there, too. According to security blogger Sanam Narang from Symantech, one spammer used 750,000 (that’s right 3/4 of a million) fake Twitter accounts to spam users of the popular social media service.
The operation impersonated legitimate brands and celebrities, tricking people into following them on Twitter.
The company used the Twitter accounts to sell a diet pill , for which they earned cash for each referral. They set up a website that appeared to be a woman’s lifestyle magazine to add credibility to their links. Among the entities these scammers impersonated were gossip site TMZ and MTV News, along with CNN and ABC News as well as several celebrity accounts.
These accounts are known as “Mockingbird” accounts and they impersonate an actual brand or celebrity by using brand images or photographs of the person. These scammers then use fake accounts called “Parrots” to favorite and re-Tweet the spam messages to other Twitter users.
The spam Tweets are then deleted after a few hours to make them harder to find. Parrot accounts use pictures of actual people and follow users on Twitter hoping the Twitter user will politely follow them back.
I actually got a follow from one of these accounts myself recently.
Scammers also use these same tactics on Instagram and Pinterest.
When following someone famous or a brand or organization on Twitter, make sure to check that they are verified. There’s a little blue verified icon that appears by verified accounts.
Now, it’s possible for a person to be legitimate and not yet verified. So look at the content of the Tweets. Does it seem spammy and suspicious?
You see a lot of similar scams on Facebook. Most often they offer things like Disney vacations or iPad giveaways. But if you look closely, you’ll see that’s something up. The page may have a suspiciously low number of likes or consist of nothing but contest links. The fact that Disney isn’t spelled right could be your first clue on this photo. But nearly 3,000 people shared it which means that it was seen by millions.
Be careful. Don’t just friend people you don’t know or follow people you’ve never heard of on Twitter and Instagram. Be equally careful what you share with others. If a contest sounds too good to be true (Apple giving way an iPad to whomever shares this), don’t share it without doing some research. Often times people will say, “It can’t hurt.” But it really does hurt, because you’re helping spammers and scammers pull in more potential victims. You are making crime pay for these crooks.