Security · October 01, 2020

How to Protect Yourself From Social Media Attacks

Though it's undoubtedly beneficial to catch up with friends and family on social media, it's also important that you're aware of the possibility of scams. Knowing how to protect yourself from social media attacks is an important internet safety skill. It's also one you may have to update from time to time, as cybercriminals are always finding new ways to defraud their victims.

Here's what you need to know about how to protect yourself from social media attacks so that you can enjoy your time on your favorite platforms without worry.

Types of social media scams

In the same way a pickpocket chooses to work in physically crowded spaces, criminals take to social media because of the number of potential victims they can access there. And because we think of platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as places to connect with friends, we're often less likely to be on guard against fraud.

There are several common types of scams that prey on your comfort in the social media space. These include:

Impersonating a friend

A friend sends you a direct message, telling you they've lost their wallet while on vacation and need you to wire money to them. The photo and account seem to match up with your friend—but it's a scammer behind the request. Social media criminals will either hack into a real person's account or create a new account using a real person's name and information, attempting to con the real individual's friends out of their money.


Phishing is when a scammer tries to steal your personal information by getting you to click on a malicious link. Some of these links will download malware onto your computer to steal your data. Other types of malicious links will prompt you to provide information—often relying on a sense of urgency. One common method is to ask you to provide information to protect or verify your account. Often, the cybercriminals will pretend to be a friend or trusted website.

Hacking passwords

Cybercriminals may also try to access your social media accounts directly by stealing or guessing your password—otherwise known as hacking. They can use social media to gain more information to help them better guess your passwords. One trick they sometimes use is social media quizzes. The quiz might ask questions like your childhood pet's name, your birth month or the street you grew up on. On the surface, it seems like they're asking these details so they can serve up the answer to "Which classic movie are you?" or "What's your Superhero name?" But in fact, some of these quizzes gather the kinds of information people often use for generating passwords. 

When company data breaches occur, personal information including passwords and user IDs can be stolen. When events like these happen, the companies affected are required to notify you.

How to protect yourself from social media attacks

Though criminals are often finding novel ways to access people's information and money, there are several things you can do to protect yourself.

  1. Create passwords that are at least thirteen characters long—it's a good idea to make it a phrase or sentence that's memorable but not easily guessed. Avoid using words or names as passwords, and don't pick a password that includes your personal information like your birthday or ZIP code.
  2. If multi-factor authentication is available, use it—particularly for any financial or other sensitive accounts.
  3. Double check the legitimacy of financial requests, even if they come from friends or trusted websites.
  4. Don't click on pop-ups or other unsolicited links.
  5. Only provide personal information when you know you're on a legitimate, secure and encrypted site.

Social media can bring people together—but it can also bring cybercriminals to you. Knowing which common social media scams you're likely to encounter is a good first step to protecting yourself. But the best defense is following good internet safety protocols, such as strong passwords and security, verifying information before acting and being cautious about how and when you share your personal information. If you follow these best practices, you can feel more confident about enjoying your time on social media.


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This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.