From identity theft to fake contests to “send me money” scams, Facebook and Twitter are host to all manner of Internet criminals looking to swindle unsuspecting users out of money or information. Don’t fall victim! Here’s how to identify and avoid the most common social media ploys.

Tug at your heartstrings. Most people want to help someone in need, and criminals are on the lookout for any way to exploit this. Within hours of the Newtown Connecticut shooting, “victims” pages popped up everywhere. Some of these were created by scammers asking for donations. Another common ploy is to hack into your friend’s account, then send you a private message asking for money, claiming to be traveling abroad and stranded. The easiest way to avoid this one is to contact family members to verify they really are traveling before even thinking of sending money.

The lure of “free stuff.” Whether it’s a Starbucks Gift Card or an offer from Cheesecake Factory that tempts you to click, resist the urge. This scam is a phishing attempt wherein the culprit tries to get hold of your personal and/or financial data in order to sell it or use it to perform identity theft, credit card fraud, etc. You’ll be prompted to fill out a survey, likely with personal information, which will in turn be used to harass or spam you outside of Facebook or Twitter. You’ll also spam all your friends with messages about the fake offer. When in doubt, never give a 3rd party Facebook application access to your personal information. If you suspect you may have done so accidentally, visit your Account Settings page, click on Apps and remove anything you don’t recognize, trust and want to have access to your personal data.

“Improve” your Facebook experience. Come on, you know you wanted to add that “dislike” button. How about changing the color of your Facebook profile? Both of these lures will have you filling out surveys with personal information and spamming all your contacts to do the same.

Curiosity killed your account. You receive a Direct Message with an alluring question: “Is this YOU in this video?” Click on the link and you’re prompted to download an update to your Flash player that is really malware. Hidden code within causes a Facebook “like” to appear on your timeline, encouraging your friends and family to click and become victims as well. Both Twitter and Facebook were hit hard with these malware attacks last year. Another popular one offers to let you “see who has viewed your profile.” It’s just another ploy to gain access to your personal information through surveys and malicious applications.

They offer you easy money, for a fee. Whether it’s a promise to make thousands of dollars working from home, or the offer of a dream job as a Mystery Shopper, any “job” that requires you to pay up front is most definitely a scam. Be suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true.

Word to the wise: always check where a link is directing you before you click. Hover your cursor over the link without clicking it – the website will display in the lower left-hand corner of your screen. I once received an email telling me my account was going to be shut down because it had been hacked. The email contained a link I was to “click on to verify my identity.” My warning bells rang. Instead of clicking the link, I contacted customer service, and I was glad I did. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my account. If you’re ever prompted to “confirm your email account,” or “verify your password” following a link you received in a private message or an email, don’t do it. Go directly to the website and log in from there.

There are resources at your disposal if you suspect a fraud. Snopes tracks Internet scams, rumors and misinformation. Arm yourself with info about the latest scams through the Better Business Bureau. Facebook itself has a “scams” page in their help section. They provide tons of information about making your account more secure so you’re protected in the future. Finally, if all else fails and you feel you have already been hacked, call and consult your computer repair professionals.