5 Tips to Help You Avoid Cyber-Criminal Scams to Steal Your Money and Credit

You may be unfamiliar with the technical name of this cyber-crime called ‘Cloaking’.  However you may have been caught up in one of these cloaking schemes when you clicked on a link you believed would take you to information you were searching for.

What is ‘cloaking’? And why is Facebook, along with dozens of other high profile digital companies you may currently be using, trying to eradicate it? How can ‘cloaking negatively affect you and your digital experiences? How can these schemes bilk you?

On the surface:

this technique shows a search engine like Google, Yahoo and Facebook proper ad information or content which meets their standards and requirements. The page looks perfect and  ‘passes muster’. The page is OK’d to run its ads or present its content. It is, in fact, the page URL you will see on search engines like Google.

In reality, the real page/s have been ‘cloaked’, and unviewable by staff reviewers at Facebook, Google, Bing, Yahoo and other companies.  Even to you.

For example, once an individual has logged into Facebook, they are using the Facebook app. When they click on a ‘cloaked’ page link while on Facebook, it redirects to another page on which a scam/s awaits them. This can be done partly because the criminal has monkeyed with the Facebook app.  Bottom line – the ‘cloaked’ pages have slipped under the radar and cyber criminals have now nabbed you once you arrive on the redirected page.  And perhaps you can’t leave the page you are now on. They’re holding you hostage.

Here’s 3 examples of where ‘cloaked’ pages may direct you: 

* Commandeer your computer.
* Steal your password.
* Require you to provide personal and/or financial  info to gain access to the     site. Then sell it.

When you click this type of link, you are frequently redirected to site pages hosting pornographic material, gambling, drugs, phony muscle builders, diet pills, other phony health products, scams and more. While, on the surface, it may seem they’re trying to sell you a variety of overpriced products,  in all actuality they want your personal info; including credit card and email. And beware – these groups rarely use Paypal.

To combat this misinformation distribution, and scamming, Facebook – as well as other top digital companies – have been diligently working at eliminating these bad actors whose ads and content are scamming millions of Facebook members out of cash, credit and personal information.

How does ‘cloaking take place?

More and more ‘bad actors’ are cloaking their content to circumvent Facebook’s system in order to pass on content which violates Facebook’s Community Standards and Advertising Policy – https://www.facebook.com/policies/ads/

How scammers sneak under Facebook’s radar:

The top way a scammer does this is to apply to Facebook to advertise a product. After providing specific info about the product, and a link to the page they’ll be marketing, a Facebook reviewer clicks the link to the page on which the product is advertised. If the page, and the product, meet with Facebook’s requirements and standards, the ad is OK’d and run. However, when ‘cloaking’ hit an all-time high, and Facebook members begin to complain – daily by the thousands – about these scams, Facebook, ratcheted up its ongoing investigation. Eliminating tons of these scammers over the last six months.

How did Facebook sort out cloaking fraudsters and eliminate them?

Facebook began utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI), plus expanded their review process.  Easily discovering and eliminating these bad actors before they had the opportunity to harm innocent Facebook users. AI allows Facebook reviewers to determine whether the info being seen is actually what Facebook members see. If reviewers identify a link-cloaked page, they capture it and take actions to eliminate it.

TechCrunch.com calls cloaking an ‘innocent looking’ version of content the search engines see; while readers see ads and get caught up in scams. Technically, how does this happen?

Rob Leathern, Facebook product director, told TechCrunch in a recent interview regarding cloaking, when they discover it’ “We’ll deactivate their ad accounts, we’ll kick them off, we’ll get rid of their Facebook pages”. While FB is using both human and AI to root out cloakers, they aren’t disclosing other signals which point out the cloakers nor any software they’re now utilizing which can also indicate cloaking. Says Leathern – we do this because we don’t want to tip them (cbyer-criminals) off.

These actions have no effect on normal businesses Leathern says. In fact, “There’s no legitimate use case for ‘cloaking’. That said, it hasn’t stopped hackers and fraudsters.

These scams have created nearly overwhelming issues, affecting millions of FB members. Prompting FB to develop a multi-pronged approach to exposing and eliminating hoaxes, click-bait, spam and low-quality sites.

Since cloaking is used across a wide variety of digital platforms, Facebook is now collaborating with a variety of other companies to find new ways to combat this situation, punish these bad actors and eliminate them. Cloaking is also considered a violation of Google’s policies as well as a wide variety of companies, search engines and social networks.

Aside from site cloaking, URL Masking is also used by scammers and can also do harm to you.

What is URL masking?

While normal individuals and businesses use URL masking for a variety of reasons, scammers use it most. URL masking means companies may provide you with a shortened link – perhaps 8-10 letters and numbers. When this is done, you don’t know what the actual site name is, nor if it’s a safe site to visit. This is also called ‘stealth redirection’ or URL hiding. On the other hand, original URL’s will appear at the top of your computer, showing you the actual name of the site or page you’ll be visiting.

Here’s 4 reasons companies may use URL masking:

1. An individual is an affiliate of a variety of programs and only paid when someone clicks product links they provide.  Scammers can change or shorten the URL address to one of their own and divert sales to themselves.

2. If your business name is long, you may want to provide a shorter, simpler link which looks better.

3. You may be using free hosting. And your URL link is the first name of the hosting company and your biz or site name is tacked on at the back end.

For example – wordpresshosting.com/ABCcompanyinc. In cases like this companies use URL masking, providing a short link which doesn’t include the name of the hosting company.

4. Some companies use URL masking to track the URL’s performance. This is usually done for sales and/or analytics reasons.

Link masking should not be confused with cloaking.

Cloaking is done to deceive people. Once a link is clicked you aren’t taken to the page you expected. Instead you’re usually taken to a scam. Cloaking is deliberate and deceptive says a Facebook rep. On the other hand URL masking is 50-50 – safe or a scam.

5 Strategies for avoiding cloaking scams:

  1. If the link to click is short, Google Chrome will allow you to hover over it to view the whole URL and discover if it’s where you intended to go. If not use http://www.getlinkinfo.com/. Type in the shortened URL and it will expose the whole URL.
  2. If a page you reach says ‘click for a free trial’ it may be a way to capture your IP address and commandeer your computer. Unless you know exactly who this company is, don’t click. Otherwise you may end up being charged, monthly, forever.
  3. Unless it’s a popular company like DropBox, who add a folder to your computer when you sign up for specific downloads, never fall for free apps or software which is automatically loaded into your computer. You may end up with a trojan in your computer and paying big bucks to have it removed by a professional computer repair company.
  4. WhatsApp scams are prevalent. Cyber criminals have web pages set up with free WhatsApp invites. ‘Click here for your free invite. And invite 10 of your friends” is the most popular. The fraud starts with you and filters through to your 10 friends. Also beware of WhatsApp Gold, WhatsApp Spy and WhatsApp blue double-click. All recently exposed as scams.
  5. Unless you know the company, beware of those who require you to sign in to access the info; and once signed in they require a laundry list of personal information.If you are caught in the net of one of these cyber-scams – and can’t get off the page because they’re holding you hostage, immediately turn off your computer and you will be disconnected from them.This can mean manually turning it off.  In doing this you may lose some unsaved info on your computer.  However in most cases it’s far better to lose that than wind up paying a ransom. And, by the way, paying the ransom doesn’t necessarily remove you from their clutches. They now have your email and perhaps other personal or financial info. And can continue to contact and/or steal from you.Authors:</spanJ.L. Serio and the Staff at Cyber Fraud Protect

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