BOISE — Scam artists are branching out, using social media networking to separate you from your money.
On the same day Idaho’s Better Business Bureau warned the public about the new route scammers were taking, KTVB became a target.
Dale Dixon, president and CEO of Idaho’s BBB, said using social media networks like Facebook is a new take on an old scam. The scams are evolving at the same rate the technology does.
“Our lives are online in so many different ways that a scam artist can go out and find a picture of a person in one place, find information about you somewhere else, put the two together, and create a Facebook account under your name,” Dixon said.
Thursday morning, a KTVB employee was contacted via Facebook chat by someone the employee thought was her friend, Karin, from college. A few minutes into the chat, the employee realized something was wrong.
The conversation quickly turned from “Hello. How are you?” to “We are stranded in London, England. I was mugged at gun point last night.”
The scammer, pretending to be Karin, claimed she was hit in the head and had her cash, credit card, and phone stolen. The scammer didn’t waste any time asking for help to cover hotel expenses and a cab ride to the airport.
KTVB contacted the real Karin about the scam. She assured us she didn’t even have a Facebook account. Karin also said this wasn’t the first phone call she had gotten about the scam.
“He (another friend) called me from England to tell me about this conversation he had with the alleged me, and how I was mugged, I had had my money stolen. He was about to wire over $900, then he just said, ‘Since all your ID’s are stolen, let me make sure it’s really you, tell me how we met.’ The person was saying, ‘Now you’re hurting my feelings. We’re old friends, how could you question this?’ So he called me,” Karen explained.
We chatted with Karin’s imposter on Facebook for about 20 minutes.
Here is an excerpt from that chat:
Scammer: My return flight leaves in a few hours but having troubles sorting out the hotel bills. Wondering if you could loan me some few $$ to sort out the hotel bills and also take a cab to the airport. Will def refund it tomorrow.
KTVB: What’s the safest and quickest way to get it to you?
Scammer: Western Union to my name and present location. Do you know any Western Union outlet nearby?
KTVB: How much do you need?
KTVB: Karin please give me a call. I have a quicker way to get the money to you.
Scammer: WU is the only way I can get money. So do that if you know you really want to help me from this mess.
Over and over again, the scammer urged us to wire money via Western Union.
Dixon warns that anytime someone asks you to wire money it always boils down to a scam.That’s the major red flag.
After learning that her name was being used on Facebook, Karin contacted the company and had the account deactivated.
“I don’t know if anyone actually sent this person money, but I would hope that all these friends or people, they know where I work, think, ‘Let me call Karin to see if she’s there and see what’s going on,'” Karin said. “I feel bad if anyone actually fell for this and sent money to this person. But I would think that someone would look and say, ‘I’m not really seeing any Karin in this — kind of stuff Karin would talk about.'”
We contacted Facebook for comment about scammers using their service. In an email, officials at the company said they take these types of incidents very seriously.
Our team has analyzed the trends of these attacks and is using this information to surface compromised accounts before the scammers get very far. When we find these accounts, we disable them and attempt to get them back to their rightful owner. We’re reminding people to be very suspicious of anyone, even friends, who ask for money over the Internet. Please verify their circumstances through some other means than the web (e.g. call them or mutual friends). If you see something that looks amiss with your account or a friend s, please report it to us through the form in our Help Center.
Karin told KTVB on the phone that she doesn’t like Facebook, and this episode is one reason for that.
“I don’t want my life on the Internet. I don’t want it on Facebook, now I really don’t want it on it,” she said. “Look at what it’s done to me and people I know. I feel so violated.”
For this story, KTVB engaged the scammer in conversation when they contacted the television station. Dixon said that while it was useful in a news story to show people what these scammers are capable of, he urges the public not to try this at home because these scammers are real criminals with bad intentions. His advice? If you ever get propositioned, simply close the conversation.