PITTSBURGH — With so many of us spending more time online during the pandemic, fraudsters are lurking out there, spoofing and hacking social media accounts, trying to trick your friends into giving money and personal information.
Marlo Vena from Kennedy Township recently learned how sneaky and persistent these cybercriminals can be. She got a message through Facebook Messenger that looked like it was from her cousin in California. It said she had good news about a charity helping people during the pandemic.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow, why is she sending this to me?”
The message directed her to text a number to find out more about how to get money from the charity. Realizing that sounded fishy, Marlo contacted her cousin.
“I contacted her immediately, and she said, ‘No, it wasn’t me,’ and that she was hacked.”
Marlo decided to text the number anyway, to see what the hacker would say. It became clear very quickly they were trying to scam her, telling her she qualified for free money.
“If you apply, they give you grants or loans that you don’t have to pay back for up to $60,000,” she said, remembering the text. “All I had to do was send my personal information and $500 through Bitcoin or gift cards.”
Luckily, Marlo didn’t fall for it, but, unfortunately, many others do.
Alarming Increase in Social Media Scams
The Federal Trade Commission reports that scams starting on social media have more than tripled in the past year, with victims reporting losses of nearly $120 million in just the first six months of 2020.
The Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania says the BBB Scam Tracker is also seeing a major spike in these scams during the pandemic.
“These cybercriminals are very good at conning us,” said Warren King, president of the BBB of Western Pennsylvania.
King says many people think they wouldn’t fall victim, but the hackers wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. That’s especially true when your guard is down, such as thinking you got a message from a friend.
“When a cybercriminal poses as a friend or family member they play on your trust. In many cases, these are people you’ve known for years and years,” King said.
The scammers try to get you to act before thinking.
“We get caught up in the moment. People are lonely. People are busy. People are greedy. People want to help,” King said.
Hacking & Spoofing Accounts
With so much of our personal information on our social media these days, cybercriminals easily hack or clone accounts. They steal pictures from your account and create a spoofed account that looks almost the same, but with a few hard-to-notice changes, like a misspelling, which is a big tip-off.
Once the account is cloned, they send messages to all your contacts, with links that have malware or spyware, or send fake requests for money to help a charity.
“Never click on a pop-up Messenger or post that contains content that seems shocking, scandalous or too good to be true,” King said.
Daisy Duck fights back
Luckily, Marlo realized the message she got was a scam. She decided to play along to see what they’d say.
“I just texted them. I said I was Daisy Duck and that I lived in Transylvania, Romania, and that I made a million dollars.”
Despite her sarcastic test, the scammer persisted, even sending her a video testimonial, trying to convince her to give money.
A young woman in the video looked in to the camera and said, “I just wanted to thank you. I’m really hurting you and you don’t know how much you’re helping me right now.”
Playing on your emotions is one of the key tactics cyber criminals use to lure victims.
“Don’t fall for it. They’re just preying on you, taking advantage of you. It’s terrible,” Marlo said, disgusted.
Tips to protect yourself
A few ways to protect yourself from hackers:
- Limit how much personal information you put on social media.
- Check your privacy settings.
- Use multi-factor authentication– like using a pin number or thumbprint to get into accounts
Click here for more tips from the FTC.