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Security & privacy

Social media messages from ‘friends’ promise free money – it’s a scam

At this point in time, who couldn’t use a little extra cash? The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated a significant number of jobs and opportunities, which is why scammers are working overtime to prey on people’s desperation.

And their efforts, it seems, are paying off. Scams are on the rise in almost every corner of the web, and numerous agencies — government-affiliated or otherwise — are warning everyone to stay alert. Tap or click here to see where all the fraud and cybercrime is coming from.

If you’re using Facebook right now, you may end up running into a dangerous scam without realizing it. Multiple Facebook users have reported getting messages from friends describing high-value “COVID-19 relief grants” worth up to $1,000. But the profiles sending these messages appear to have been hacked, and if you play ball with scammers, you could end up losing money.

Know who your real friends are

According to an urgent new alert from the Better Business Bureau, a bizarre scam is making the rounds on Facebook that has already cost victims significant amounts of money.

These scammers are posing as familiar contacts or relatives of their victims and offering “financial relief grants” worth upwards of $1,000. If you take the bait, the scammers request personal information from you and demand an upfront “processing fee” in order to send you the money. But if you send them the fee, the conversation ends — and the money you sent is as good as gone.

This scam, like many others on social media, is pure social engineering. The scammers behind it are taking advantage of people’s financial misfortunes in order to lure them in, and pretending to be trusted contacts can make it even harder to avoid getting tricked.

How are the scammers getting away with making these fake profiles? As it turns out, most of them are simply picking their victims and selecting someone from their friend’s list to copy. The BBB claims many of the profiles pulling the scam off are either hacked accounts or duplicates created with stolen images and data.

So the next time you get a message from someone claiming to know you, you’ll want to be extra careful about engaging with them. They might not even be the person you believe they are.

And to think, this isn’t even the first scam revealed by the Better Business Bureau in recent weeks.

Tap or click here to see why the BBB is warning people about buying puppies online.

How can I protect myself from getting scammed by these fake profiles?

Regardless of whether profiles sending you the messages are hacked or duplicates, there are a few red flags you can check for to keep yourself safe.

First and foremost, the fact that the scammers refer to the money they’re offering as a “grant” proves that something is awry. If it were truly a grant, you wouldn’t be obligated to pay anything upfront. That’s, quite literally, the definition of a grant.

Second, and most importantly, there aren’t any COVID-19 grants going around anyway — especially not from government sources like some of these scammers are playing. At this point in time, Congress hasn’t agreed on a second stimulus package, let alone financial grants for COVID-19-impacted Americans.

Beyond these two important factors, here are a few other steps you can take to protect yourself from getting tricked.

  • Be skeptical of any talks of money that come out of the blue. It doesn’t matter if the sender is a friend, family member or trusted contact. Social media accounts can, and will, be hacked at some point.
  • Never send or request money over the web or through social media unless you have explicitly agreed to do so with someone you trust.
  • If you’re not sure that your contact is who they say they are, try running a search for them on Facebook. If two identical profiles pop up in the process, close out the message you received and stop talking to the scammer.

Fake Facebook accounts are bad enough as it is, but there are still ways you can tell that the profile isn’t authentic. And as these scams continue to get worse, learning to spot the fakes is a skill we’ll all need.

Tap or click here to see how to easily spot fake Facebook profiles.

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