If you're on Facebook you've probably seen the tantalizing come-on: full downloads of the just-released blockbuster movie, free gift cards at your favorite store and even a look at who is peeping at your profile. The only thing these promises fulfill is making a sucker — and victim — out of you with a click that takes a nanosecond.
The result can range from annoying to devastating, from a hacker hijacking your email to send nefarious offers to your friends to the planting of a virus that can knock out your computer. Knowing that danger potentially lurks with every click could be enough to make you unplug.
So how do you avoid being taken without going offline?
To be blunt, the best overall approach is to be a bit antisocial in a social world, said Phil Lieberman, president and chief executive of Lieberman Software.
Although many of us click "likes" and links as automatically as we blink, you should trust no one enough to click without thinking.
Sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Facebook encourage just the kind of click-quick mentality that works in the favor of thieves.
More often than not, we have no idea where that one click of a link is taking us, and thieves can easily make you think you're entering a legitimate website.
The easy availability of personal information on social media sites enables criminals to personalize their pitches with details about your location and to make it look as if your friends are involved with minimal effort or skill.
And, with the viral nature of sharing through these sites, sometimes your friends become unwitting accomplices because they've clicked a link or shared something that looks legitimate.
And just like the flu, it spreads because it's not just telling two friends, but hitting possibly hundreds or thousands of friends in a single post, pin or tweet.
To that end, the one thing all people surfing the Web should do, whether on or off social networks, is to inoculate their computers as best they can.
Make sure the antivirus and operating system software on the computer are up-to-date, said Chris Boyd, senior threat researcher for GFI Software. Although scammers can adapt their tactics and shift rather quickly, antivirus software is armor, however imperfect and occasionally penetrable, against attack.
Another rule of thumb is to avoid strangers bearing gifts.
Those offers of gift cards and free iPads just for filling out a survey or clicking a link most likely won't pan out. If it sounds too good to be true, it simply is.
Another popular scam on Facebook is one that appeals to our egos — or maybe the paranoid person inside — and one that has been around since the heyday of Myspace: the chance to see who has been accessing our profiles.
"They were the survey scammers of the day," Boyd said. "Unfortunately, we're just too curious."
Ultimately, as a social network citizen, you've got to be your own best neighborhood watch and apply your real-world street smarts to think before you click.