Scammers pose as government officials on social media

BALTIMORE, Md. - They're the places you go when you have news to share, but you're not the only one posting on Facebook and Twitter.  Our government leaders, including Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake often take to social media to spread the word. 

But even though those officials have legitimate accounts, that doesn't mean you should take everyone's at face value.  Angie Barnett with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland says, "Scam artists spend a lot of time, a whole lot of energy in trying to cause harm."  And Barnett believes some of that energy gets spent on creating bogus social networking accounts.

The feds, through the Internet Crime Complaint Center website, say there's been an increase in the use of names and photos of U.S. officials being used to set up fraudulent accounts.  Barnett says, "It gives credibility.  It's an agency of authority."

Authority, in this situation, can be used to fool you, because these accounts are often used to strike up relationships and get your personal information.  Barnett explains, "They're going to use that information and the more detail about you to customize, or spear fish as we call it, a scam for you based on your interest."

The feds say some of those scams turn out to be bogus work at home opportunities.  In other cases the scammers hit you with a sob story and ask for money.  That's why Angie says it's important to know who you're talking with.  She advises visiting the official websites of government officials or agencies to see if there's an indication that they are on Twitter or on Facebook.

If a government official or agency does maintain a social networking account, many times their homepage will include a link to their legitimate page.  If they don't have a link to take you directly, consider yourself warned if you communicate.  You could be sharing with a social media scammer.

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