Reconnecting with an old friend on Facebook who turned her on to a government grant promising thousands of dollars led Linda Lee on a wild-goose chase that resulted in the loss of her emergency savings fund.
"If you pay $500 you get 30,000. If you pay 950, which is what I did, you get 50,000,” says Lee, 65, of San Luis Obispo, California. “This girlfriend said she got 80,000 and sent me a picture of the cash, not with her in it, of course."
The friend urgently encouraged Lee to apply to a program called the International Financial Corporation Grant. She was then assigned to agent “Richard Harrison,” and promptly received an application from the Office of the Attorney General. “Later on that night, after I knew I'd been rooked, I went back through Facebook, found her page and messaged her,” says Lee.
Turns out her friend's profile had been cloned by a scammer duplicating her name, pictures and information. When Lee went to message her friend, she saw two threads, which indicated there were two profiles. One was fake.
Scams originating on Facebook appear to be growing
Scams through Facebook's Messenger platform are being reported to AARP's fraud help line at higher rates than ever before, says Amy Nofziger, director of AARP's Fraud Victim Support Network.
How to Stay Safe on Facebook
- Do not “friend” strangers.
- Do not click on unsolicited links, and report suspicious requests.
- Do not pay for anything with gift cards.
- Do not engage with any government agency or bank through Facebook.
- Avoid people or accounts directing you to a page to claim a prize.
- When talking to a new Facebook friend, call the friend offline to make sure you're communicating with your actual friend.
- Report any impostor accounts to Facebook.
- Check out the Baby Boomers’ Guide to Facebook.
- Review this video about detecting and reporting scams.
The government is also seeing an increase in such behavior. In 2018, impostor scams were the most common complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission by consumers. The agency said government impostor scams reached a record high, based on data from January through May of this year.
"The federal government does not offer grants or ‘free money’ to individuals to start a business or cover personal expenses,” it said in a statement. “The government does offer federal benefit programs designed to help individuals and families in need become self-sufficient or lower their expenses."
Nofziger says the scammers create fake profiles using photos of another person to develop friendships or relationships. “The one thing about the clones is that if you get a friend request from someone that you already thought was your friend, do your due diligence and find out why,” she says.