Scam Stories: Man recalls falling victim to social media scammer
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Facebook and other social media scams have been regularly used to try and pry money away from unsuspecting consumers and during the pandemic, scammers on the platform became “increasingly bold”. Scott Gallacher, a Chartered Financial Planner at Rowley Turton, warned fraudsters are using Facebook games, often quizzes, to receive personal data from users which can then be used for ID theft. Mr Gallacher warned both vulnerable and “very successful” people are at risk of this.
Scammers have been observed using “innocent and fun” games to get key information from users. For example, they’ll ask “What is your Superhero name?” and give users a set of responses they can select using their birth month and initial to generate a name such as “Captain Turbo”.
Within seconds of doing this, scammers have gained access to a key bit of personal data, i.e. the month of one’s birth. Other posts are more direct, simply asking “Name the first car you ever owned”, “What street did you grow up on?”, or “Do you remember your best friend from childhood?”.
The answers to these questions are often security responses used by banks and other financial institutions. Mr Gallacher warned people are essentially “putting their personal data in the public domain in this way, which can leave them vulnerable”.
Worryingly, scammers are getting even bolder. Mr Gallacher said he has seen posts asking users to “use the last three digits of your phone number to see what you need to be happy”. If a phone number ended 461 this would generate the answer alcohol (four), travel (six), money (one).
He urged Facebook users to be vigilant and take care not to disclose their personal data by participating in these “fun” questions and quizzes.
“We like to think it’s only vulnerable people that are scammed but I know some very successful people who’ve fallen victim to scammers this year,” he said.
“People need to take care that they aren’t giving scammers the security keys to their online and telephone accounts. How long is it before we see scammers asking for ‘a four-digit number only you know?'”
The pandemic has likely exacerbated these vulnerabilities, as insecure employment and lockdown rules may have forced jobseekers to lower their guards in the face of limited options.
Sami Ayubi, a 44 year old from Exeter, Devon, shared how he almost fell for a dubious job offer listed on Facebook.
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Facebook job advert scams
Mr Ayubi, a carer based in Exeter, was almost scammed via Facebook while looking for a job during the pandemic. Like many workers, Mr Ayubi was forced to look for work during the second lockdown after being told his furloughed second job would not be continued.
As he found himself reliant on state support, Mr Ayubi turned to social media for potential options.
“Being a carer I’m on a carer’s allowance, so before the pandemic I was supplementing my income with bar work,” he said.
“During the first lockdown I was furloughed, but this wasn’t carried through to the second lockdown. With no additional money coming in, I started looking for jobs via social media and saw one called Footistic – based in Cardiff but working from home in customer service/recruitment. Obviously working from home during the pandemic is ideal, and I’ve worked in customer services before, so I applied.”
The application process appeared to be completely legitimate but an interview was booked in for Sunday at 8pm, which raised red flags for Mr Ayubi.
Mr Ayubi continued: “[I was told] I needed to get an expedited DBS check done ASAP. I went onto the DBS check link they provided and knew something was wrong as it was called Volpages.com. On top of this, it was supposed to be UK-centric but all the areas you had to fill in said ‘postal code/ZIP code’, and all over the website it said ‘Expedited DBS check Covid special reduction from £29 to £15.99’.”
“Some parts of the scam were clever and people would have fallen for it, but this website looked dodgy and felt like a scam. So I went onto the Footistic website and it took me to a blank portal page which said ‘Sign up to our free trial, first two days are free and you can cancel any time – normal billing will resume after two days.’
“I clicked around and none of the links led anywhere. Another red flag was that the company told me that I needed to do a DBS check because I may be dealing with under-16s but their website says you must be 18 or older to use it.”
Fortunately, Mr Ayubi reported this scam in light of these red flags but he feared others may not have been able to spot them: “Had it not been on Sunday night and the fact I’m very cautious with money, I might’ve fallen for it. The advert I clicked on wasn’t a crazy ‘get rich quick’ scheme or anything like that – it was simply ‘Would you like to work from home doing customer service work for £10 an hour?’ During the pandemic most of us want to do that. This is why I felt I had to alert other people to this scam, because I know if I had fallen for it I would’ve felt terrible.”
Who is most at risk?
Royal London recently conducted an online survey of 2,001 UK adults aged 18+ to determine who is most at risk of these kinds of scams. Its results showed male scam victims have lost more than twice as much money as females in the last 12 months.
The research found one in five (17 percent) UK consumers fell victim to a scam or fraudulent activity in the last year, with nearly a third (29 percent) losing money as a result. Men lost an average of £2,780 each, while women lost £1,133. Overall, the average amount of money UK consumers lost to scams was £1,988 per person, rising to £4,073 for those aged over 55.
Tommy Burns, Risk and Financial Crime Manager at Phoenix Group, concluded by urging victims to take action where they can.
“There’s been a flurry of scams in the last year, with fraudsters taking advantage of the pandemic to target an increasing number of victims,” he said.
“Many people are losing significant amounts of money to scammers, yet not all victims take action and report suspicious activity, leaving themselves and others susceptible to further fraudulent activity.
“For victims of financial fraud, the first port of call should be to inform their service provider who can take whatever steps are possible to protect their money. Anyone that has been scammed online should change passwords so that scammers can’t infiltrate other accounts too. Reporting the activity to the relevant authorities will help prevent similar activity happening again and flagging to family and friends will increase awareness around the topic, and hopefully protect others in future.”
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