Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

This Facebook Scam Might Cost You Thousands

Your Facebook friend asking for money might actually be a hacker, not a friend.

This is an old scam that has been around for several years but a new variation of it is making the rounds on Facebook. In the previous versions, you might receive an email message from a friend or relative who claimed to be traveling overseas and had his or her wallet stolen, along with all his or her cash, credit cards, and the airline ticket required to return home. The person then begs you to send him or her some money to help pay for a trip back home.

The newest version is basically the same except the message from your Facebook “friend” claims to have the money in a PayPal account that is useless when traveling overseas. The “friend” then promises to immediately send you the cash with PayPal and asks you to deposit the same amount of money into the “friend’s” bank account.

Unfortunately, the money doesn’t last long. The “friend” retrieves the money from the bank account, then logs onto PayPal and claims that YOU are the fraudster and requests Facebook to refund the transaction. Facebook will do that.

The result is the money you deposited to the “friend’s” bank account is already gone and will not be refunded by your bank. The money the “friend” sent by PayPal has already been refunded back to your so-called “friend.” You are out of luck.

You will then realize the person sending you the request is a hacker or fraudster, not the friend that he or she claims to be.

The sad part is that it is easy for fraudsters to forge Facebook user names or email addresses. The original message did not come from a true friend, relative, or neighbor of yours. Instead, it came from a fraudster who is posing as your friend, relative, or neighbor.

Always double-check any requests for money received from anyone. If it was me, before sending money I would ask for some piece of information from the “friend” that only he or she knows. For instance, I might ask, “What is your dog’s name?”

That works best if the friend, relative, or neighbor doesn’t have a dog!

Of course, you are not limited to any pet’s name. You can ask for anything that is not known to a fraudster. What color is your wife’s automobile? What high school did we both graduate from? I am sure you can think of something similar.

Additional facts to be aware of:

Nobody gets stranded overseas with no method of returning home.

American citizens can contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate anywhere in the world and that office will either lend some money or will purchase a ticket home for the citizen. (It is a loan; the citizen does have to pay the money back after returning home.)

Many credit card companies will advance money if asked. American Express always does that (assuming you are not late in payments on that credit card) and many other credit card companies do the same. You don’t even need a physical credit card in your possession and do not need to have the credit card number handy when calling. Simply call American Express (toll-free from almost anywhere in the world) or other credit card company and give them your name and address. There might be a short delay while the company’s employee looks up your account but all credit card companies can do that.

In most countries, contact any police officer and ask for help. The officer probably will undoubtedly contact his or her superiors in the local police station and that office is well equipped to handle stranded tourists and business people. (It happens often so police stations around the world usually are quite familiar with the required procedures.)

You should never carry all your cash and all your credit cards in one pocket or wallet or even in one suitcase. Pickpockets, hotel housekeeping employees, and other thieves work worldwide!

Personal story: Some years ago, the wallet in my hip pocket was missing after a ride on a very crowded subway in a foreign city. I then pulled out my credit cards that were in a different wallet in my front pocket, stopped at the next ATM, retrieved some cash in the local currency, and continued on my trip. I lost the money that had been in my hip pocket but luckily that was a modest amount. (I never carry a lot of cash when traveling.)

Categories: Credit Cards, Identity Theft, Scams

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