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Consumer alert

You need to stay wary of scams on Facebook

Rarely does a day go by that I don’t hear about someone falling for a scam or coming really close to handing their money to a con artist. A few recent notes from readers suggest it’s time to once again warn about the perils of Facebook.

For those who are well-schooled in the practice of connecting with old friends, looking at photos of nieces and nephews, and checking out what friends are up to, Facebook can be an amusing way to pass time. Fortunately, a healthy percentage of Facebook users are also savvy to just how quickly scams can move through the social network.

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But too many folks are unaware of just how easy it is to manipulate people by using catchy headlines, alluring photos, or promises of money.

Is Southwest or JetBlue really running a contest to give away tickets if you share the post with your friends? Is Ikea or Best Buy really going to dole out gift cards if enough people “like” a photo that says so?

These scams are pervasive because people still fall for them.

An e-mail last week from a reader who nearly got taken by a man posing as a soldier is yet another type of scam that persists on Facebook. It takes advantage of those who are either interested in meeting other people or those who want to offer moral support to a member of the military.

They’ll often use real photos posted by military members and build a level of trust, usually through online chats, until it’s time to ask for money. Thankfully, some people freeze there. But far too many end up at a local grocery or convenience store wiring money by Western Union or MoneyGram — a classic sign that you’re being scammed.

Just because a friend clicks “like” on a photo or someone who claims to be serving this country says they want to be your friend doesn’t mean you have to go along. Keep Facebook as a place for friends and family and businesses (or other known quantities) that you like, and you should be able to stay safe.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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