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Those awesome Facebook quizzes could be scams, warns the BBB

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Congratulations! You've just clicked on what could be the most SHOCKING/INFORMATIVE/FRIGHTENING news that you will read Today/Tomorrow/ForTheRestOfYourLife: Those IQ and personality quizzes that your friends are sharing on Facebook could be scams, according to the St. Louis Better Business Bureau.

Yes, that awesome quiz your old pal from high school just shared that'll determine whether you have the IQ of a rocket scientist or a rock could be harmless fun. Or, it could be a phishing scam that will hijack your computer or steal your identity.

And it’s difficult to tell them apart, warns Chris Thetford of the BBB.

“They’re often marketed in a way that they’re click-baiting -- meaning they’re trying to entice you to click on them,’’ he says. “Be careful because sometimes when you do that, you can either be downloading malware onto your computer -- or they’re going to start asking you for sensitive personal information like your credit cards or your bank account numbers which can leave you vulnerable to being a victim of identity theft.”

As one example, the BBB found that an app associated with IQ tests requested a cell phone number before the user could continue with the quiz. Entering a cell number could open the door for junk texts and bogus charges on phone bills. Sometimes, it’s not the app itself, but the banner ads that appear within the app that users might click on by accident.

The quizzes and polls are extremely popular with social media users ("Do you see the world in red, blue or 50 shades of grey?")  making them effective and cheap advertising tools for both legitimate marketers and scum. In some cases, users will get the results of the quizzes they've taken, only after they agree to post their results on Facebook.

“If it is nefarious, you’ve shared that with everybody that you’re connected with on Facebook, and they, in turn, will share it,” Thetford says. “Which is the genius of the scam here because with very little effort these things can go like wildfire through social media.’’

The BBB doesn’t have data on the percentage of social media games that are bogus but receives calls regularly from people who were duped into clicking on dubious links, Thetford says.

“So we just encourage everybody to be careful and to think about what you’re doing. And realize they’re not all for fun,’’ he says.

Here are some useful/practical/not-SHOCKING-at-all tips from the BBB:

  • When a link promises that “you won’t believe what happens when you click on this link” DON’T click on the link. Or on any link that promises to show you “EXCLUSIVE” or “SHOCKING” photos or videos. If it’s an outlandish claim, it’s probably a scam.
  • Hover your cursor over a link to see its URL. Don’t click on links to unfamiliar websites.
  • Your friend’s social media account could have been hacked so don’t assume that clicking on a link is safe because it came from a friend.
  • Report scam posts to Facebook.
  • Report malware or spam that you find on Twitter.
Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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