With a brand-new year open for business, identity thieves are turning to social media to separate you from your money.
Fortunately for consumers, MoneyGram is on to some of the most aggressive social media scams and is taking steps to warn Americans to practice caution when approached on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for cash-related requests.
Although the scams may change, the golden rule still applies when it comes to protecting your bank account: "Never send money to someone you don't know," says Kim Garner, senior vice president global security at the Dallas-based money transfer firm. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
MoneyGram is warning consumers to watch out for three new scams for 2014:
The Instagram scam: MoneyGram reports that consumers are being approached on Instagram and offered an "investment opportunity." Usually, the scammer asks the user for $100 or $200, with a promise to invest the cash for a guaranteed return of between $1,000 and $2,000. If the target sends the upfront money, it disappears with the con artist.
Instagram may lull users into a false sense of security -- it does, after all, connect people who usually know each other, or at least have a loose social connection. All that doesn't matter, though. If you're approached on Instagram for an investment opportunity, take a pass. Chances are it's a scam.
The Facebook travel scam: Facebook users love to share photos and comments from vacation trips. Be careful, though. MoneyGram warns that online scammers can get the "ammunition" they need to call family and friends requesting hardship money from that travel destination, posing as local law enforcement officials or other trusted sources. If you get a call saying your Uncle Sid or old college roommate is in an "emergency situation" from someone you don't know, hang up and contact that Facebook friend or family member right away.
"Be cautious of the amount of personal information you post about yourself, and avoid social media completely until after your vacation," Garner says.
The "work from home kits" caper: Most savvy consumers are accustomed to seeing so-called "work from home" scams, but not on social media sites such as Facebook. Fraud specialists are counting on you being caught off balance, lulled into a false sense of comfort from engaging online with people you know. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter are used by companies to make connections and draw leads -- but never to ask for money. So avoid those who do.
As always, be cautious what you post online, especially on social media sites. If you don't, you'll have a big target on your back.
"The internet knows no boundaries," Garner says. "We want to remind consumers that what they post on the Internet is never really private. Fraudsters are experts at accessing information online, even with privacy settings."