A woman sent me an email a few years ago with an incredible offer. She was the niece of an exiled political leader, trapped in some African country with no access to her family’s vast wealth. Because her funds were inaccessible, she needed the help of someone outside the country.
That someone was me. All she needed was my bank account information to save her fortune. For my part, I was to receive 10 percent of $137 million.
Of course, all of this was too good to be true.
You’ve likely been the lucky recipient of such an offer (hopefully, like me, you declined). In recent years, thanks to good spam filters and our finely tuned skills at detecting scams, these kinds of email have been on the decline.
(Here's a link to a great column on Mother Jones by Erika Eichelberger - "What I Learned Hanging Out With Nigerian Email Scammers")
But this doesn’t mean the e-scammers have gone away. They simply turned to another channel to get our attention: social media.
Late last week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office released a warning about the increase in social media scams.
Whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or some other platform, the lure of quizzes and opinion polls are often to good to ignore. Some of these posts lead to shortened links, which often signal a scam.
DeWine’s office has apparently fielded claims of losses from social media scams ranging from $30 to more than $3,000.
What forms do these social media scams take?
Unlike the email scams I used to receive for low-cost Viagra or knock-off Gucci handbags (not entirely sure why I was targeted for either), some social media scams play on our desires to win prizes, make quick money, and save animals.
The AG’s office mentions three particular types of scams:
1. Prizes. DeWine notes that social media users sent money after being offered a prize or grant, and received nothing in return.
2. Money flipping. According to DeWine, and similar to email scams, Instagram users received offers to flip $100 into thousands, only to lose money.
3. Pets. If you find a great Facebook deal for a puppy or parrot, it’s probably a scam. DeWine said people wired money, but never received their new pets.
Of course, many other social media scams exist. For example, catfishing is the creation of an elaborate online personality, often under the guise of a romantic relationship, by a person who will suddenly ask for something (usually money). Other scammers offer “too good to be true” types of deals on things such as tickets, cars and vacation properties where you send money and never get the goods.
Be safe. Never send account information or money directly to a stranger. For most legitimate business transactions, there are reputable brokers who will facilitate the deal and protect you from fraud.
Do your research. Just like the report issued by the attorney general, the FBI also regularly alerts the public of e-scams.
Social media gives us lots of opportunities to create community and form rewarding connections. But just like our offline life, it’s important to balance those rewards with the potential risks.
~ A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, November 23, 2014 issue of The Vindicator.
A few weeks ago, The Vindicator announced a High School Music Video Challenge. Students at area high schools are encouraged to make a video with an anti-bullying message based on JD Eicher & The Goodnights’ song "I’d Like To Get To Know You." (Listen to "I'd Like To Get To Know You" at the YouTube link below).
Considering the strong media production programs at local schools, creating a music video should be a simple task, not to mention a lot of fun.
Aside from the exposure a winning video will bring to your school via The Vindicator and anti-bullying PSAs, you get a free JD Eicher acoustic concert at your school just for signing up.
You might also get to hone your social media campaign skills. Let’s face it — if you’re creating a cool lip-dub music video, you should tell people about it and where to view it. Friends, family, teachers and students should all hear about your video, and share it with others. Who knows? Maybe your video will go viral.
Here are some tips for creating that winning music video:
1. Find your friends and make some new ones. The judges want to see people and community. For you this means “students” and your “school.” Recruit your friends, and go out of your way to get other students involved. Also, go into the places and spaces of your school that most people never really see (I was always a little freaked out by the boiler room at our school).
2. What’s the message? Be clear about the message you’re trying to send. Remember that this video should focus on themes of “acceptance, friendship and anti-bullying.”
One of the best things you can do before ever picking up a camera is to storyboard the video. It’s the equivalent of seeing the entire video on paper before you shoot it. To learn how to storyboard like the pros, go to nofilmschool.com and search for “storyboard tips.”
3. Find the techies and thespians. Every school has them. I was an ambitious techie at my school. We also had a lot of aspiring Oscar nominees. More importantly, if you don’t know the students with tech skills and acting chops, this is even more of a reason to get out there and meet them.
Once you’ve assembled your team, be sure to give everyone responsibilities. Everyone should feel a sense of ownership in the project.
4. Get out the vote. Once the video is complete, and you’ve submitted the video to firstname.lastname@example.org, getting people to vote for your video will be the next step. This is where social media comes in. Drive people to vote for your video via a mini social media campaign.
To get votes, use some traditional channels in your school for sharing voting information (e.g., morning announcements, school newspaper, posters) as well as internal social media platforms (e.g., Drund, Facebook pages).
Good luck and remember, you must register your school by emailing email@example.com no later than this Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. All videos should be completed and submitted by Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.
It’s only been a week and my face is already itchy.
While I’m tempted to grab a razor, every itch is just a reminder of why I’m letting my facial hair grow.
In November, men around the world are enduring itchy faces to bring attention to men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and mental health.
Movember (a clever mash-up of “mustache” and “November”) was started in Australia in 2003 by 30 men as a way to bring the mustache back as a fashion trend.
In Australia, “Mo” is slang for “mustache.”
In one year, the trend quickly grew into a social movement for men’s health. Movember added 450 members and raised over $40 thousand in 2004.
Ten years later, according to movember.com, Movember has over 4 million members in 21 countries, raised over $559 million, and funded more than 770 men’s health projects.
Of course, social media is the real power behind Movember and other campaigns like it.
Earlier this year, you probably saw videos of people dumping cold buckets of ice water on their heads in an effort to raise funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). These YouTube videos brought a lot of laughs and over $100 million to the ALS Association.
The Ice Bucket Challenge was both heralded and panned on social media. But most experts consider it the most successful social media campaign for a health-related cause.
A few weeks ago, I posted the following Facebook status:
“I know nobody will read my status but sometimes, when I'm bored, I get wrapped up in a sleeping bag and lather butter all over myself and slide around the kitchen floor pretending I'm a slug.”
The post is the result of my unknowing participation in a weird social media game. Everyone who liked or commented on my demented post was hit with a message telling them that, just like me, they had lost. To make it right, they had to post the same message on their Facebook page to promote breast cancer awareness month.
I fell for it by liking Vindicator managing editor Mark Sweetwood’s status.
These are just a few examples of how social media can act as a change agent for non-profits, charities, and causes.
For the rest of November, you can grow your mustache (or wear a fake mo), post pictures and videos, start your own team, raise funds for men’s health programs – and share all of your activities via social media.
Or you can wait for the next campaign. If you’re feeling up to it, you might be the launch pad for the next great cause on social media.
November is the only time I can get away without shaving for work, or for my wife (actually, I think she likes it). More importantly, growing a terrible looking ‘stache and posting a few selfies on my movember.com page is an easy way to bring some attention to men’s health issues, even if it means only one man will think about getting a check-up.
My wife doesn't allow me to check email on Saturdays. Now, before you start thinking my wife is some overbearing, control-freak spouse, let me explain how we got to this point.
Some time ago, I was under the impression that everyone read work-related email on the weekends. And so, I would open my email on a Saturday or Sunday and boom — there it was — an email bomb.
I refer to these as "e-bombs." These are work-related bombs because, once they go off, there's really nothing to be done about them. Better to just leave them until you’re better equipped (on Monday morning) to diffuse them.
You know, Monday morning? When everyone else is returning to work after a relaxing, re-energizing weekend?
I'm happy to say that, on most weekends, the Saturday rule bleeds into Sundays. Sure, I still work on the weekends, but I'm free to work on my projects, on my timetable.
Email and social media create a sense of panic for many people, a sense that "if we don't fix it now, it will never work again!"
And now, diffusing the e-bomb in the moment has a new name: precrastination.
Think of the exact opposite of procrastination. Some of my students understand this term well. Procrastination is the art of putting things off until the very last minute. Procrastinators are deadline-driven people (for example, most journalists are procrastinators).
Precrastination, according to Dr. David Rosenbaum and his colleagues at Penn State University, is the tendency to complete, or at least start, tasks immediately so as to avoid brain overload.
In a recent Psychological Science article, Rosenbaum's group found evidence to suggest people will rush to complete goals, "even at the expense of extra physical effort."
They argue that we have a strong desire to reduce "working memory loads." Basically, we want to complete tasks quickly because we don't want to think about them any longer than we have to.
"It's a constant struggle," said Dr. Joanne Cantor, an internationally recognized expert on the psychology of media and communication.
"It seems to me that precrastination for one thing is often procrastination for another," Cantor noted. "Answering that new email is often easier than getting into the difficult, longer-term project you promised yourself you'd do. But the correct choice really depends on the situation."
Side note: Cantor didn't immediately respond to my email. She was working on another project at the time. Clearly she’s not a precrastinator.
For me, diffusing the e-bombs on the weekend was problematic because, well, no one else was checking email. So, instead, the bomb kept ticking. Precrastination was easy for me during the workweek, but a stress-inducer on the weekends.
"Try to insulate yourself from email while working on something difficult, so you can really focus your attention, even for short periods of time," Cantor said. "If you allow yourself to look at each message as it comes in, you're handicapping your ability to focus, contemplate, integrate and reason."
Learn more on Cantor’s website at http://yourmindonmedia.com.
~ A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, November 2, 2014 issue of The Vindicator.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.