You’re scanning Facebook, catching up on a high school friend’s latest antics, when an offer pops up for free airline tickets. Within minutes, a similar message arrives in your email inbox. The claim? At no cost to you, you’ll get airline tickets enabling you to travel anywhere in the continental United States. To receive your tickets, simply answer four basic questions and share the offer with 10 of your friends and family. Sound like a great deal?
The free-ticket scam is a revised version of a classic phishing ploy. It’s a way steal your personal information, sometimes introducing malevolent software (malware) to your computer or phone. If you share the offer with your friends, they may become victims as well. The con may also subject you to a bait-and-switch swindle. To collect your free tickets, you may be required to attend a high-pressure sales presentation at your own expense.
How can you avoid the “free” ticket rip-off?
- Check out the URL. Copy and paste the website address from your browser’s address bar to a plain text application like Notepad. When displayed as plain text, bogus URLs (for example, addresses containing foreign language characters) often become more apparent.
- Don’t click. Clicking on hyperlinks in the email or post could expose your computer to malware. Bookmark frequently visited sites, or type them in manually.
- Search for typos. Although legitimate businesses sometimes fail to catch mistakes, a post or email riddled with errors is a red flag.
- Don’t trust the generic. If the communication is addressed to “Dear Customer” and doesn’t mention your name, flyer rewards number or other personal identifier, odds are it’s bogus.
If you think you’ve been targeted by this scam, file a complaint with the administrators of your social media network. Ignore the post. Delete the email.