A new scam going around Facebook at the moment is for the con artist to choose a particular individual, steal their profile photograph and then send friend requests to all of their friends. The idea is that you'll see the person, you know who they are (after all, you recognise their face right?) and you add them, perhaps not remembering that you've added them already. The fake friend then sends you messages asking you to like particular pages, or download a program, make contact with someone else and so on. You're more inclined to do this, because after all you know the person, they're trustworthy so you're inclined to go along with the request, leading you into a whole load of difficulties. I was fortunate enough to catch one of these 'live' last night, and I'll go through the whole thing with you, so you can see how it plays out.
The first thing that I knew was my friend - let's call her Fake Mary (which is a coincidence, cos that's kind of her name) sent me a friend request. I thought it was a bit odd because she was already a friend, but I decided to friend her anyway, just to see what would happen. She then popped straight into a Facebook chat with me, and the following is the transcript of our discussion. My extra comments on this [are in brackets].
Fake Mary: Hello
Me: Hi, how are you?
Fake Mary: Am fine, and you?
[At this point I really wanted to make doubly sure this was an imposter, so decided to check]
Me: Not too bad; was really good to see you last weekend; did you get home ok?
[Of course, I hadn't seen Mary last weekend, and the 'real' Mary would have commented on this. Instead, the attempted con starts straight off.]
Fake Mary: Good to hear from you. I'm doing good and very happy. Have you heard the good news about Agent Larry who works for the United Kingdom, USA, Australian, News Zealand and Canada government organization money grant program offer?
[This was the obvious line that convinced me that I was dealing with a con artist, since my friend would never have made such a statement, and she would never have used that terminology. However, since I was keen to see where this would lead, I wanted the con artist to continue.]
Me: No? Do tell me.
Fake Mary: Oh, I thought you have heard about it already. The money is from the federal government head office to help all the community. I think you have get the money already because i saw your name among the winnes list when the federal government agent brought cash to me and I wonder if you have got yours?
[I have transcribed this exactly as written, including the poor grammar. It's a fairly poor attempt at a con though - the 'federal government head office'? Please!]
Me: No! I haven't seen this; what should I do?
Fake Mary: It's a win money grant offer from the federal government to help and maintain the standard of living. I think you should contact the federal government agent that leads the ups to my door step on his face book contact page or email address. You could also download the program. Do you have the agent face book contact page link with you?
[It was at this point that a joint friend of Mary and myself messaged me - she'd seen that I had befriended 'Mary' and was warning me, which was very kind of her, and helped confirm (not that I needed any confirmation!) that this was indeed a con.]
Me: Not to hand, no. Can you give it to me?
Fake Mary: just click on this link and it will lead you to the federal government agent page that bring cash to my home on his face book page https://www.facebook.com/larry.few5 let me know when you have him up so i can tell you what to do next.
Me: [After a bit of a pause - didn't want to look to eager!] Yup, got that.
Fake Mary: add him to be your friend and send him a message, tell him you heard of him about win money and how will you claim yours too.
[It was at this point that I checked out the page, and went 'one further up the line' as it were, so decided to report the fake account. I then pointed it out to the con artist]
Me: Do you really think I am that stupid? I am going to report this account. I know that you are not the real [Named redacted]
[To give the con artist their due, they did try and carry on]
Fake Mary: are you kidding me? what do you mean?
Me: You know what I mean you idiot.
Fake Mary: this real and legit I dont want you to loose this great opportunity ok
Me: Oh, grow up. Tell me the last time we met then. Ohh look, it's gone all quiet. Come back! Come back!
[That was where the fake Mary went out of the picture. I checked the profile page, and they'd done a runner, and all I was left with was the following:]
It was now time to track down 'Larry Few'. I went to the Facebook page and this is what I saw, though I have blurred out the face, since it's also been stolen - I'll come back to that.
I carried on the conversation with 'Larry'
Me: So tell me more about this opportunity
Larry: what is your full name so that i will check our list here if you name is there
[This guys English is even worse than the first one!]
Me: Phillip George Michael Bradley
[No idea how George Michael popped into my head - sorry George!]
Larry: My name is Larry Few, I work for Federal Agency. We remember your Screen name on our list here and your money is available for you to claim. Let us know if you ready to claim the money
[Am I ready to claim the money? Ready? You bet I'm ready to claim the money!]
Me: Oh yes, I am absolutely ready to claim the money! What do I need to do?
Larry: Fill out the form below accordingly one after the other right now: Your Full Name:-------- Your Address----------- Your City----------- Your State-------- Zip code-------- Date Of Birth----------- Married/Single:----------- E-Mail Address------------ Phone number Text Number Number----- Occupation---------- Do you Own/Rent a House....... Male or Female---------- Are you Deaf or Hearing---------- Age------------ Do you want Cash or Check? Get back to us Asap. Regards Agent Larry Few. Get back to me in order to avoid unnecessary delays and complications.
This is of course a huge amount of personal information that any decent con artist could use to scam me, impersonate me and so on. It was at this point I broke it to him that his cover was blown. Within minutes the account was closed. What I also was doing while the chat was going on was to take a copy of the profile picture and run it through Google's image search to see if I could find any other similar ones. It turns out that the image is actually that of an American actor, and it had also been used fraudulantly in other places as well. Hence blurring it out here - no reason the poor guy should get associated with scams of this nature. I also emailed his agent to let them know.
I checked both accounts again today, and they have been closed. The fake Mary has disappeared, as has Federal Agent Larry Few. So, what can we learn from this:
- Check your friends - if you think you've already friended someone, don't just friend them again and doubt yourself. Double check.
- If you see one of your friends friending someone, do exactly what MY good friend did for me, which was to alert me to possible danger.
- Trust your instincts. Everything that Fake Mary was telling me seemed wrong - the language being used, the phrasing, the poor grammar, it all screamed con.
- Report the account to Facebook, and also if you can, alert the friends of the fake account if you can, to warn them. If you want to play along for fun, that's up to you, but never give them any kind of real information at all. It's also worth telling your friends that you already have a Facebook account, and under no circumstances, add 'you' again.
So - a Facebook scam in action. It was fun to watch, but I was getting angry, since people are going to get taken in by this - just make sure that it's not you or your friends or colleagues!