When the news is bad, scammers, sadly, look to exploit the fact that we might be a little distracted or worried, to trick us out of cash.
One of the areas I’ve heard the most complaints about recently has been social media scams and how fraudsters are getting creative in the battle for your cash. Here’s what to watch out for.
Fake fan groups
From designer handbags to hot ticket gigs, the latest way fraudsters are ripping people off is through fake Facebook groups. If there’s a particular collectable item that you love, a favourite artist or a big event that you want tickets for, chances are there’s a Facebook group devoted to it. The only problem is many of these groups have turned out to be fake. While real people often write, respond and befriend you, their motives may be compromised.
Fake groups and pages work in two ways. The first is where a desirable item is advertised for sale and you get chatting to the seller and other interested buyers. The item may be genuine, but as with any scheme of this nature, it may only get sold to one person – who may or may not be real. This gets you charged up to bid on another item that comes up for sale. What seems to happen next is money is paid privately by a number of real people in the group, at which point the fraudsters vanish and the responses stop.
The other variant is out-and-out fraud, where you buy items through the group only to find out they never existed. You might get a few messages after sending money, just to keep you occupied, then the fraudster vanishes. What’s horrible is this fraud – like relationship scams – work on the basis of exploiting a burgeoning friendship until you drop your guard and send money. Remember though that these people aren’t your friends – so be cautious.
PayPal friends and family
Though scams exist in literally hundreds of forms at the moment, at some point, they need to part you with your money. This is done either through tricking you in to handing over cash or passwords, getting you to transfer or send money using methods that can’t be recalled, or by using identity theft to create a fake ‘you’.
Fraudsters are always looking for new ways to catch you unawares – and one of the most recent methods is asking you to pay by PayPal’s ‘Friends and Family’ option. On paper this might seem like a good idea. By using this option you can avoid paying a fee. However, Friends and Family payments are basically a money transfer and therefore are not covered by PayPal’s buyer / seller protection schemes. Don’t use this method of payment unless you are sending money to an actual friend or family member.
Speaking of fake friends, more and more people are reporting a suspiciously large number of people using social media to become your friend. So what’s in it for these fakers? And how are they trying to tempt you to accept them?
As with other forms of fraud, fake friend scams have different agendas. For example, some people are pushing cryptocurrency or forex trading sites – either genuine ones or outright fakes. These sites offer unregulated services – which means there’s little you can do if you get ripped off or want your money back. Beware.
Wannabe Instagram influencers might be lured in by tales of people living their best lives and traveling around the world while getting paid for it. In reality, many of those people asking you to ‘collab’ are actually out to get a fee for you for promotional work. You’ll be asked for fork out to get the ball rolling. I get about 30 collab requests every week – and not one of them so far has been genuine.
Finally, some fake friends might be pretending to be your actual friends, through hijacked profiles, stolen details and pics online or other methods. These fraudsters are more likely to be ‘data farmers’ looking to nick your likes, interests, friend lists and more to pinch your identity or break in to your accounts. Watch out for links to weird looking sites (look at the full website address for clues) which can act as ‘trojan horses’ to take over your accounts. And even those ‘what kind of wizard’ quizzes you get sent can be methods of farming your personal data. Think of how many quizzes ask for your date of birth to tell you what your superhero name is, for example.
The fight goes on
The fight against fraud never ends. So keep the people you know informed about the latest scams doing the rounds and always report it if you get ripped off. Even if you can’t get the cash back you could help someone else avoid the same traps.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.