Tis the season to warm the hearts of mankind to give gifts and financial donations. Christmas is over, but another holiday is approaching (first of the year). Yet for many Americans, generous giving still extends from family and friends to charitable donations, whose financial contributions that charities heavily depend on prior to and even after the holiday season, particularly this year in 2020. And as the 2021 year approaches, families and individuals remain strapped for cash and personal needs due to lack of steady employment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Beware, there are thieves in cyberspace eager to take what little you have. This feature article will not only examine fake charity scams but also other scams that rake in “hundreds of millions” of dollars off Facebook, including additional social media networks. Beware of the facebook scammers, they only care about taking your money.
First, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Remember those unwanted email spams during the late 90s and early 2000s? Now we have Facebook scams that are difficult to spot because these ingenious scams hide in plain sight and periodically rehash old “dirty” tactics. Like a hungry lion ready to pounce on a vulnerable target, Facebook scam artists aka professional thieves prey on our most vulnerable people in society.
Holiday seasons are no exception.
Professional thieves view holiday seasons as a bigger opportunity to swoop in on unsuspecting victims and ravage their giving spirit by ripping them off.
They make persistent bogus phone calls, often spoofing legitimate charities’ phone numbers or they may create fake charities to steal your money or personal information. On a regular basis, the pitches thrown out to potential victims include added enticements such as tax write-offs or you being awarded a large block of grant money. Don’t click on suspicious links, and remember that nothing is free.
There isn’t a gorgeous princess or prince (male) with drop-dead looks interested in Joe Blow or Lady Sue out of the blue! Don’t expect reputable businesses or friends to offer you tons of money, and there are no superior methods of getting rich quick within 90 days unless miraculously you hit it big and win the lottery.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that people who lost money to scams on social media more than tripled in the past year, with a sharp increase in the second quarter of 2020. For example, in 2019, total reported losses due to various frauds reached $134 million, with record highs of nearly $117 million within the first six months of 2020.
An article on USA Today reported Facebook is fully aware of various scams perpetrated on its network and that the social media giant had removed more than 3.2 billion fake accounts between April and September 2019, according to the company’s Community Standards Enforcement Reports.
According to Statista, there are currently around 2.75 billion Facebook users around the world.
Despite billions of suspicious accounts and scam sites removed off Facebook, numerous others were created within minutes.
Charity scams take on many undercover schemes, but the unsurprising news is: multiple schemes follow a patchwork of techniques. To help consumers spot these clever methods, here are 5 basic steps that cyber criminals and charity scammers use to target their prey on Facebook.
#1 : Befriending Victims with Fake Facebook Profiles
To reel their victims into a web of lies, charity scammers create fake Facebook profiles, featuring stolen images of real-life people, attired in professional looking clothing to establish an outwardly impressive appearance. By having access to automated programs, scamming thieves will spam hundreds of Facebook users with friend requests. Once a fake profile is ‘friended’ it immediately gives the scam artist credibility within a person’s network. So when this happens a friend within your Facebook circle will unwittingly believe this friend must be trustworthy and likely accept the ‘friend’ request, thus exposing their own personal information to the scammer.
#2: Compiling Information on the Victim
Now, since the scam artist has muscled in on your inner-circle of Facebook friends, the scammer will tediously analyze every piece of information that their intended victim added to their Facebook profile, social media crime experts call this technique ‘Gathering.’
Since Facebook holds extensive personal data on a particular profile, the con artist has direct access to pertinent details of your life that you’d rather only share with loved ones like family, spouse, children and close friends.
By reading your hobbies, books you love to read, favorite movies and television shows, sports heroes you like, including where you shop and donate money gives the thief a clear outline of your lifestyle.
St. Jude Hospital, Military Veteran programs, children charities and cancer research hospitals are favorite places where Facebook users donate their money. The aforementioned details provide the thief a goldmine of knowledge about their target’s interest, thereby enabling the thief to “flip the script” to pull off a powerful con job.
#3: Pique the Victim’s Interest
The next important move is for the scammer to customize their fake Facebook profile to mimic the background interests of their prime target. This method is referred to as “mirroring” which gives the victims a false sense of having the same interest and background as the thief. Social media experts say the ‘mirroring’ technique was created by Romance Scammers, widely known as ‘Catfish.’
The Catfish technique is used to play the victim’s sense of empathy or friendliness to dupe them into lowering their guard, or otherwise they’d be alert. For example, the scam artist will lie, claiming they attended the same college that their victim attended or they will falsely claim they earned a degree from another prestigious college.
A cyber thief may even like and comment on the subjects that you like to build communication and trust with you. Many victims have reported that scammers will nicely engage in chit-chat for several weeks or a month or more before asking for money. The time frame (prior to asking for money) is to bypass the victim’s critical thought process and build a false sense of trust between the victim and the con artist.
If the scheme is to solicit money for a false cause during the holidays the person will start with a script and begin asking for money to support noble causes.
#4: Scam Artist Makes a Charity Pitch
Armed with goodies, it is time for the scam artist to work his/her magic on your finances. When the communication between the con artist and the targeted victim is finally established the con artist makes bold pitches claiming to represent a charity or they operate a fund drive for a nonprofit organization in urgent need of donors.
Holiday charity scammers (or those working scams year-round) often send dubious website links that ask for substantial amounts of money in exchange for gift cards, sports tickets, awards or vacation vouchers.
At this point, the con artist has gathered enough information about their target to appeal to their deepest interest. Depending on which tactic a scammer decides to take, they may outright solicit money from a potential donor with offers of gift certificates and unlimited shopping sprees. For instance, let’s assume the intended victim is hesitant to fork over funds, the scammer will switch the bait and tell the person the offers are soon to expire or there are limited awards to give out for distribution to the donors.
#5: Ripping off Bank Account
Convinced they’re doing a good deed to help their fellow man, the victim doesn’t realize how easily they swallowed the bait; hook, line and sinker. This opportune moment is when the scamster strikes harder, but in a subtle way, by coaxing the victim into wiring funds to Western Union, Moneygram, Paypal or through another digital payment method.
Once the funds are wired to the groveling thief the thief will disappear, leaving the duped victim without traceable information to track him/her down for prosecution. Since the social media profile is fake and the name(s) that the “thief or thieves” impersonates are either fictitious are stolen, there isn’t much law enforcement can do to track down the scammer.
International scam artists habitually engage in ripping off the identity of a U.S. citizen and have funds forwarded to a U.S.-based account and from there wire the funds into an offshore account. This old-school method is known as “Piggy-backing” off someone’s identity to steal money because once the money leaves the victim’s account, thus transferring into the thief’s bank account the funds are untraceable, missing in action. The thief withdraws the money and disappears.
Protecting yourself from various Facebook scams whether it be the charity type, phishing, viral videos, identity theft, grant scams, free coupons, free iphones, fake surveys, contest scams, love scams etc, it is vitally important to take extreme cautions while using Facebook.
The defense to defeat online scams is fairly simple in theory, if you carefully follow protective measures.
Here are some extra: helpful guidelines people can use on Facebook to protect themselves:
- Seriously consider whether to accept a Facebook friend request from someone you don’t know, no matter if they are a “friend-of-a-friend.”
- If you accept a request, be sure to investigate your new Facebook friends by verifying their identity within your pre-existing social networks.
- You can also confirm the identity of a Facebook profile by running a private investigation background check on the person’s username.
- Use these helpful links to check out fake charities. Ask if charities must be registered in your state, and, if so, whether the alleged charity you’re dealing with is registered in their database:
The Federal Trade Commission recommends social media users should make sure to verify a user’s online profile, prior to befriending them on Facebook, etc.
Facebook scammers are out there, and they can be very sophisticated, so be careful.
The Golden Rule
Most (perhaps not all) scams can be avoided if we undertake due diligence and follow this single common sense rule: if an offer or a demanding pitch either sounds or looks too good to be true, you’re probably right. Overall, bottom line, we need to remain vigilant, always question a person’s motives that you’re engaging with, no matter if it’s a Facebook event, a sponsored post, website links that are linked to fake charity sites or simply an unsolicited message.
That’s it for today. We here at NewsBlaze wish everyone a very blessed, wonderful, and Happy New Year in 2021.
Report social media scams to FTC: ftc.gov/complaint
Reporter Clarence Walker can be reached at: [email protected]