Think before you click
May 1, 2017
by Ivan Raconteur

We are exposed to much more information from many sources today than we were in the past, but this has not made us better consumers of information.

There are times when I look at social media and wonder if there is more scam content out there than real content.

I have nothing but contempt for the dirty sons of unwed parents who post this garbage to exploit others, but I will say this for them – they have figured out what it takes to manipulate people.

Many of the scams play on people’s emotions.

Some say things like “retweet (or like or share) this and Bill Gates will donate $5 million to charity.”

I suspect Mr. Gates has his own criteria for charitable giving that has nothing to do with some random post on social media.

Others might say they are trying to get a million likes to show support for veterans (or some other group).

Still others might show a photo of a child with some illness, and the post might ask people to like or share it to help the child recover.

What the scammer is really doing is collecting data for some decidedly uncharitable purpose.

Other posts say things like “If you love your mother (or father, sister, brother, niece, nephew, or accountant), share this post.”

I am confident that the special people in my life know how I feel about them without my having to share a post on Facebook, so I’ll pass on that.

Other scams appeal to people’s pride.

They might say, for example, “Ninety-five percent of the population can’t answer these questions about geography (or history, music, art, or some other subject) – can you?

And in order to show how smart they are, people take these non-challenging “intelligence” tests, and share the results with all their friends (which is, of course, what the scammer was hoping for).

These must be very popular now, because I have seen a bunch of them recently.

I must have some smart friends, because all of them seem to get 100 percent correct, or close to it, even though most of the population allegedly does not know the answers.

Perhaps in a way, these really are intelligence tests. The smart people avoid them like the plague.

Another twist on this theme involves challenges such as “Name a fish that does not have a letter “A” in it – it’s harder than you think,” or maybe “Name a band that does not have a letter “T” in its name.”

Of course these are not difficult questions. They are just another way scammers get people to click on their content.

Scams like this are called “clickbait” for obvious reasons.

Greed is another powerful motivating factor.

Some people can’t resist the temptation to click on offers for “valuable” prices, such as free iPads or iPhones.

Even though these scams are obviously too good to be true, there are people who will click on them.

Some scams apparently just appeal to people who are bored, such as “Which ‘Star Wars’ character are you most like (or substitute character from any popular movie).”

They might also ask “Which princess or historical figure are you most like?”

Posts like these may be an attempt to get people to click on them, only to find out later that they have been subjected to hidden charges.

Another scam involves a cash grab. A social media user may get a request from a friend, based on an event such as losing his wallet while traveling and needing cash right away.

The friend may not know anything about the request, because it may have been generated by his malware-infected computer, which grabbed his contact list and sent out phony requests to all his friends.

Some posts include hidden URLs. When unsuspecting users click on these links, they are directed to sites that have nothing to do with what was promised in the post.

“Like-farming” is a type of scam in which the scammer posts some apparently harmless content that is likely to attract a lot of shares or likes in a short period of time.

Once it has reached a certain level of popularity, the scammer switches the content to something else to trap people. The popularity of the site increases the speed at which it spreads.

Anti-virus software and other measures can help, but perhaps the best thing we can do to stay safe online is to view any request or post with a degree of suspicion.

Scams have been around as long as there have been people willing to exploit others for personal gain, but the speed of the internet makes it possible for unscrupulous characters to spread their poison quickly and easily.

Wise people will think before they click, no matter how attractive the lure may be.

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