Messenger is one of the most popular ways to keep in touch with friends, and that’s why it’s also a target for criminals. These days, it’s far easier to trick a human than a computer into handing over sensitive information which is why there are so many phishing scams which arrive by email and - now - by instant messaging apps.
Whether it’s the promise of money or free chocolate, or even a more sophisticated scheme where a ‘friend’ asks you to move some money for them, they all rely on humans falling for fake websites and fake friends.
The latter is one of the things that Messenger is addressing right now. A new feature is being rolled out which will warn you with pop-up safety messages when it thinks you might be about to talk to an imposter posing as one of your real friends, helping you avoid such scams.
The notices will let you block a suspicious contact on both Messenger and Facebook, showing you information such as when the account was created and how many friends it has. Seeing a fraudulent account alongside your real contact means you can more easily spot when you're being scammed.
In case you’re worried about the privacy of your messages, Messenger doesn’t read them to decide whether it’s a scam or not. Instead, according to Jay Sullivan, Director of Product Management, Messenger Privacy and Safety, “it looks at behavioral signals like an adult sending a large amount of friend or message requests to people under 18. This ensures that the new features will be available and effective when Messenger is end-to-end encrypted.“
It’s a nice promise, but it’s also a reminder that currently Messenger does not encrypt your conversations, so it’s unwise to share any passwords, financial details or any other personal information via the service.
Instead, use one of the secure messaging apps such as Whatsapp (owned by Facebook), Signal, Telegram or Viber.
In any case, it’s good to see that Messenger will now proactively flag these types of interactions. The fact they’re also designed to help under 18s spot fraudulent messages is encouraging, too. If they do choose to chat with a new person, the system - which uses machine learning to detect potential scams - will offer tips to spot various kinds of scams and advice to refuse requests for money.
The features started rolling out to Android in March and will come to iPhone and iPad starting next week.