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Security & privacy

Frightening Facebook scam spreading and tricking people

The technology of our modern internet has made it easier than ever to fake information about yourself to strangers. Because of this, a golden age for web-based scammers and grifters is upon us — and their schemes show no signs of slowing down.

We’ve covered a number of tricky scams and rackets on social media, but the latest convoluted scheme hitting Facebook users takes the cake for its sheer audacity. A number of users have reported being tricked into sending money to strangers, only to be contacted later by the “U.S. government” because they “sent money to ISIS.” Obviously, none of the parties in this fraud are who they say they are, but with so many moving pieces to this ploy, it’s a wonder it even got off the ground!

Against all odds, enough people were ensnared by the scam that the Department of Homeland Security has put out a notice for Facebook users to warn them about money-sucking messages from strangers and “law enforcement.” If you’ve been targeted by one of these scams, or just want to know what to look for, we’ve got all the details here — so you can keep yourself and your wallet safe!

How are scammers masquerading as ISIS and law enforcement?

The latest Facebook fraud is unusually complex compared to its predecessors — namely in how it employs multiple identities and ruses-within-ruses. The basic gist is this: Another account contacts you via Messenger, or apps like Words With Friends.

This account will attempt to gain your confidence, potentially even feigning romantic interest. Eventually, they’ll ask for money to assist them through some “hardship” or similar sob-story. Once you’ve sent this account money, the real scam begins.

Yes, really! That’s only the beginning of this scheme.

For the second phase of the scam, the fraudster spoofs the phone number of a legitimate law enforcement agency (like the FBI, Homeland Security) and calls you directly. They proceed to tell you that the account you sent money to wasn’t a real person but, in fact, a member of ISIS in disguise.

They then inform you that you’re now at risk of imprisonment for assisting a terrorist group, and instruct you to contact a lawyer who can navigate you through the government’s demands.

But wait — there’s more!

For the final phase of the scam, when you contact the “lawyer,” they demand an excessive retainer fee up-front for their services. Usually, this amount is $1,000 or more, making this the real profit center of the scam. If you pay the “fee” at this point, the grift is now complete and you’re out money to fraudsters not once, but twice in the same scheme.

Talk about a convoluted plot! In reality, I’d call this more of a Facebook “heist” than a “scam.”

What is law enforcement doing to fight the scam?

Naturally, the government takes impersonation of law enforcement extremely serious. The fraud has claimed enough victims that the Department of Homeland Security felt it noteworthy to launch a press release detailing all aspects of the scam, as well as some steps on how to avoid it.

According to the release, citizens can rest easy knowing that real law enforcement will never ask for money directly over the phone. Furthermore, they encourage potential victims to reach out to the DHS Office of Inspector General and report their findings. This will help the government keep track of who’s spoofing their numbers, and potentially bring the scammers to justice.

For those who’ve fallen victim to this scam, the government states that their best bet is to contact the Federal Trade Commission and report the event as identity theft. This can potentially help you recover money you lost, and keep law enforcement on the tracks of criminals involved.

As with any major online scam, prevention is the best protection. If you find unknown accounts trying to get friendly with you out of the blue — be skeptical. Whether it’s a Russian bot, a scammer, or just a “Catfish” on the other end, you can’t be harmed if you don’t engage.

All of us were told “don’t talk to strangers” as children, after all. Now’s the best time to put that wisdom to practice.

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