Michelle Espinoza thought a single photo was going to ruin her business.
It was an image of one of the pearl cuff bracelets she designs that showed up on Pinterest, a site where users create virtual bulletin boards, grouping images in categories—whether it be chocolate desserts or bohemian jewelry. For 10 days in April, anybody who clicked on the photo ended up watching pornography or unwittingly downloading a virus. “I can’t gauge how many customers I lost,” says Espinoza, a resident of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. “But I did have people messaging me asking, ‘Are you linked to spam?’ I was just distraught.”
When Pinterest debuted two years ago, e-mail was the format of choice for spam peddling diets, sexual enhancement, and get-rich scams. Better filters have since banished many of the unwanted missives from in-boxes. Instead, scammers are turning to social media sites that are often poorly equipped to deal with the influx. “Social spam can be a lot more effective than e-mail spam,” says Mark Risher, chief executive officer of Impermium, which sells anti-spam software. “The bad guys are taking to this with great abandon.”
Spammers create as many as 40 percent of the accounts on social-media sites, according to Risher. About 8 percent of messages sent via social pages are spam, approximately twice the volume of six months ago, he says. Spammers use the sharing features on social sites to spread their messages. Click on a spammer’s link on Facebook (FB), and it may ask you to “like” or “share” a page, or to allow an app to gain access to your profile.