Facebook is a terrific tool for staying in touch with old friends, former classmates, family, and community members. Unfortunately, like other popular social media platforms, it also attracts scammers looking to abuse the system for their own gain. We’ve recently heard from nearly a dozen consumers who have contacted Fraud.org about scammers using Facebook’s Messenger service to try to defraud them by posing as long lost friends.
The set-up for these scams is remarkably consistent. Consumers who sent us complaints report that these scams begin when they receive a message on Facebook Messenger from someone impersonating a former classmate or an old friend. When the recipient responds, the scammer strikes up a conversation to build trust. Once trust is established, the impersonator urges the consumer to send a text message to a number the scammer controls to get information on a grant, prize, or even government stimulus funds. When the victim texts the number, they are urged to pay an up-front fee and/or supply personal information (Social Security number, bank account/credit card information, etc.) to collect the non-existent money. Victims who do send the money are then urged to send even more money until they catch on. Unfortunately, the money is often sent via wire transfer or gift cards, which are extremely difficult or impossible to stop or reverse.
While this scam is not new, the request to take the conversation off Facebook Messenger and on to text message is a new twist. This is likely due to the scammers trying to evade anti-fraud technology employed by Facebook.
Here are tips to reduce your risk of falling victim to this scam:
Bonus Fraud Alert: Facebook copy/paste scams
If you have perused your Facebook newsfeed for any appreciable length of time, chances are that you have come across a message from a friend urging you to “copy and paste” their message instead of using Facebook’s “share” function. These “copy and paste” instructions often come at the end of a heart-warming, controversial, or political story.
These messages may seem innocuous and they may make you feel good by helping to spread a message you agree with. However, by copying and pasting a message instead of using the “share” function, you may be helping marketers (not all of who are legitimate) build lists of people to contact later with friend requests or other messages. A tell-tale sign of such scams is misspelled or unusual words or phrases in the text of the message. Including those in a message helps the scammers search on that misspelled word or phrase and easily build lists of the people who have helped to spread the message.
The easiest way to avoid this scam is to ignore any message on Facebook that urges you to “copy and paste” instead of “sharing.”