A Consumer Action News Alert • September 2022
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  Gold mine for scammers  

Sadly, social media, for all its good intentions of connecting people, has a very shady side. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report early this year revealing that social media increasingly is where scammers go to con us. Data from complaints to the FTC show that one in four people who reported losing money to fraud in 2021 said it started on social media with an ad, a post or a message. The FTC said it saw a "massive surge in reports" about investment scams originating on social media, particularly those involving bogus cryptocurrency investments. After sham investments, the FTC identified romance scams as the second most profitable fraud on social media. New frauds are popping up every day, says the agency, which, in the report, offers tips on how to stay safe when using social media. Its advice includes checking your privacy settings and limiting who can see your posts; opting out of targeted advertising; and not replying on-site to questionable come-ons from "friends"--call or email your friend directly to see what's up. Apparently, it's pretty easy for scammers to set up imposter accounts in other users' names to trick their existing friends. Here's some advice (designed for military members, but useful for anyone) on recognizing imposters and reporting them.

  Market makers  

Facebook Marketplace has a billion active users worldwide, and it has become the platform of choice for local commerce, facilitating the buying and selling of items as diverse as furniture and cars, and helping tenants and landlords through home rental postings. With such a big audience, there's bound to be creeps on the platform aiming to take advantage of users. An article on GO BankingRates takes a look at the scams you could encounter, such as merchandise bait-and-switch; overpayment cons; freebie downloads that lead to malware being installed on your computer; and claims that an item purchased was never received, when it was. The final take? "Be cautious, don't engage with another party outside of Facebook, stay away from links or other tools that could be phishing for information and report any scams to keep yourself and others safe." Even Facebook itself acknowledges you could be targeted by users who would "trick you into giving them money or personal information," listing some of the myriad ways you might be targeted on the platform. 


Gone smishing. SMS, which stands for Short Message Service, is how "smishing"--attempts to steal personal information or download malicious programs by fooling you into clicking a link in a text--gets its name. The Federal Communications Commission warned about the increasing prevalence of malicious texts. "A typical smishing scam message may seem like it's from a bank--maybe your bank--and include a link or phone number to bait you into clicking or calling. If you do...that's when the scammers get to work, manipulating your personal information, which they can sell and/or use in other scams." The Federal Trade Commission also warned about smishers. Texts purporting to be from "the boss" (and we don't mean Springsteen) have lured loyal employees to send money, buy gift cards and provide personal information about coworkers to scammers. Don't click on links or reply to unexpected texts, and don't phone any numbers included in them.

No friend to you. It's easy to communicate with friends and family on Facebook's Messenger service. And you can trust a friend, right? Umm, maybe not. According to PIXM, an online security firm, as many as a million Facebook Messenger users were scammed into logging into fake Facebook sites by crafty programmers--and the scam may still be active. (This scam is particularly effective because it sends links from hacked accounts to their real friends.) And many Meta users have experienced the "Is this you?" scam, where you get a message with a link asking if a video or image is of you. Naturally, one's curiosity can get the better of them, but do not click! If you do, you could allow malware (malicious software) to download to your device or have your browser hijacked. Then a scammer can spy on you as you enter information on other sites, such as your usernames, passwords or account numbers. Get to know the many come-ons used in Messenger scams. Consumer Reports has more advice on avoiding Messenger scams here.


A bloody shame. "A calculated game of manipulation designed to exploit lonely web users and take them for all they've got," going by the name of "pig butchering," is making the rounds, according to Gizmodo. Deploying a mashup of romance and investment scam techniques, the fraudsters convince victims to invest in a phony cryptocurrency platform, then disappear with their money. The FBI warned about the scam a few months ago, according to KTVZ-TV in Portland, Oregon. Read up on this scam and avoid the "slaughterhouse."

Bereaved, then relieved of cash. A Long Island, New York, news site recently carried an article by a woman who runs a support group for people whose spouses recently died. She said, "Our group, as of late, has become inundated by duplicitous scammers." We're not surprised, because widows and widowers, often older, are prime targets for romance and investment scammers. As survivors who are listed in obituaries, they may be easy to locate and target at a vulnerable stage. Alabama news station WAFF 48 reported recently about a widow who lost $430,000 to "not one, not two, but three" scammers over the span of eight years. "I had no clue," she said. "I believed them. I wanted to get married again." In another case, reported by AARP, a Philadelphia woman ended up losing $39,000 to a Facebook "suitor." AARP says the scammer "took what was left of her late husband's life insurance and her savings, Social Security and pension benefits." Listen for clues: Scammers often profess love quickly and hint at financial troubles. 

CopyWRONG. Beware of fake copyright infringement notices that prompt you to share your social media credentials or other personal information. Social media users have received official-sounding emails or direct messages claiming that they have violated the platform's copyright terms. The scary notice says you must complete a form immediately or your account will be deleted. Don't take the bait! Online technology magazine MUO has advice about how you can protect yourself against such scams.

Wolves in watchdog's clothing. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that it has "confirmed that scammers are using CFPB employees' names and imagery to try and steal your money." It says that if someone contacts you and says you've won a class action lawsuit in a foreign country, or that you can receive other large, unexpected amounts of money but must use the CFPB's assistance to claim the funds, they are lying. Visit the CFPB website to learn about the warning signs of this scam, and how to protect yourself and others.

What the hack? If you like podcasts, here's one to add. Adam Levin's "What the Hack" describes itself as "true cybercrime with dad jokes" and a "no-shame zone for anyone who's ever been scammed, hacked, phished or cyber-bushwhacked." Levin, former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and author of "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves," says the podcast can make you "a little harder to hack."

App-alling. The Social Catfish site polled users about which apps (and their parent platforms) had the most scams. Its poll garnered 726 responses. In the top 5 were Facebook (152 people); Google Hangouts (99); Instagram (80); WhatsApp (50); and Plenty of Fish, a dating app (50). Careful out there!

Yes, sir! Servicemembers need to worry about being targeted by scammers--maybe even more than their civilian counterparts do. "Military consumers have a steady income. They have money. They move frequently," Linda Sherry of Consumer Action told reporter Sonner Kehrt for a recent article in The War Horse. "You have to be totally on your game." Scammers especially may offer assistance with navigating the benefits available to military members and veterans as a potential door to identity theft, notes the piece, which includes some tips on how servicemembers can avoid scams.

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