Reuniting with a long-lost Facebook friend? Don't get scammed!
The prospect of reconnecting with a long-lost friend over social media may sound promising.
But beware: your old high school friends may not really be behind their profile pictures.
Scammers have gotten more and more creative with tactics to take money from honest folks, and one of the newest tricks on social media plays on one’s heartstrings.
On Instagram, a platform for sharing videos, photos and graphics, scammers are using an elaborate method of identity theft to steal phone numbers and personal information from the friends of the person whose account they’ve hacked.
I learned about this from a friend of mine whose brother fell victim to the trick.
Here’s how it works – and bear with me, because the scheme is complex.
Scammers hack someone’s profile and study their friend’s list and pictures to find people the person hasn’t talked to in a while. For example: A scammer may see that John Doe was friends with Billy Bob several years ago, but they haven’t talked in a while.
The scammer has already hacked John Doe’s profile, and now he wants to steal someone else’s personal information. So, after logging into Doe’s account – and locking Doe out of it – the hacker messages Bob with what seems to be a heartwarming message.
The message might sound something like this: “Hey, Bob. We used to hang out a lot, but it’s been a while. I’d like to reconnect. Would you send me your phone number so we can talk?”
Once Bob passes along his phone number, his ship is sunk. The scammer takes the phone number and can use that to lock Bob out of his account and potentially access other information to which that number is tied. That can even include a person’s bank account if the person uses online banking, or has it tied to a social media account.
(That’s why I never purchase anything over Instagram or Facebook using a credit card or banking information.)
Once the scammer hacks someone’s account, the scammer can do basically anything he or she wants to with it. Some scammers will hold the account for ransom; others will delete all of the owner’s posts, pictures and data and publish links to websites that can steal even more data from people who follow those links.
Scammers are also trying to lure people in by saying they’ve made thousands of dollars by investing in online currency platforms or opening up accounts with certain banks. And – you guessed it – these are all lies.
Sadly, this new scam – even as complex as it may seem – is just one of several floating around the internet today. Similar scams are present on pretty much every social media platform today, so no matter which outlets you use, be careful about your online activity, whom you talk to and especially the kind of information you share.
People often say they’re aware of online scams, but with the mountain of new scams out there today, it’s important that we keep ourselves up-to-date with new information in this online world.
If you’ve fallen victim to a scam, you’re not alone. The Federal Trade Commission reported that more than 95,000 people lost more than $770 million – yes, $770 million – in online scams in 2021 alone.
“Those losses account for about 25% of all reported losses to fraud in 2021 and represent a stunning eighteenfold increase over 2017 reported losses,” trade commission officials said in a January news article. “Reports are up for every age group, but people 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely as older adults to report losing money to these scams in 2021.”
Investment scams are now among the most common forms of online scams, right along with cryptocurrency offers, officials said. Romance scams and fraudulent sales of goods are also top sources of rip-offs and identity theft.
So, what can you do to protect yourself, whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram or any other online social outlet?
Tip 1: Don’t talk to or interact with people you don’t know.
Tip 2: Increase your privacy settings as much as the platform you’re on will allow.
Tip 3: “If you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or an urgent need for money, call them,” the FTC says. “Their account may have been hacked – especially if they ask you to pay by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.”
And tip 4: “If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down,” the FTC says. “Read about romance scams. And never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.”
For the latest news about scams and how you can protect yourself, visit www.ftc.com, where you can sign up for consumer alerts. You can also report scams there.
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