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Who Are You Talking To?

I recently received an email from a concerned Idaho woman, worried her granddaughter was caught in the middle of a scam. This email wasn’t as simple or straightforward as I originally thought. It took a surprising turn.

The original email said her granddaughter had received $50,000 from “The Trust Community Foundation”. All she had to do was pay $1500 in taxes and fees. The woman knew this had red flags of scam written all over it but needed help convincing her granddaughter.

I sent her back an email outlining the tell-tale signs of this common scam:

  • You should never have to pay money to get money
  • Organizations don’t send money out of the blue
  • The name of the organization didn’t have a longstanding reputation

I said the likely next step would be the original $50,000 check would soon bounce and the granddaughter would be out the $1500 she sent back in taxes.

But this is when my jaw dropped.

“She was sent a box of cash.”

That’s when this typical grant scam took a bizarre turn. A cash award is not usually part of the scam playbook. I went to work, put on my Sherlock Holmes cap, and grabbed my magnifying glass. Thus prepared, I contacted our BBB investigations team as well as the Boise Police Department. Both responded with the same question, “Is she actually talking to her granddaughter or this all via messenger?”

At BBB, we get calls every day about people getting messages from their “friends” claiming they received a huge chunk of money, enticing them to join in on the action. But in fact, their friend’s Facebook account has been hacked and it’s all a scam.

I wrote back to our concerned consumer, asking if she’d been talking to her granddaughter over the phone or via messenger. Turns out, they had been messaging each other because the granddaughter’s phone was (allegedly) broken. That’s when grandma realized – it was all part of the scam.

The scammer had hacked the granddaughter’s Facebook account, messaging family members claiming she had $50,000 in hopes they would play into the sweepstakes scheme. Ha! The saying is true. Unless you see the face of the person you’re communicating with, in front of you, talking, you can’t trust anyone online.

Here are some tips to help you avoid getting caught up in this type of situation.

Be wary of online messages. A person may be trustworthy in real life, but online accounts can be and are hacked, and sometimes friends share things without checking them out first. Take a closer look before sharing, applying, or donating.

Do some research. Ask for the organization’s name and look it up. If you can’t find a website, it’s most likely a fake. If you can find a website, look for contact information (no contact info is a red flag).

Press for details. Ask questions to confirm you are actually talking to someone you know. Then, find out who runs the grant, where it’s from, how it works, and why you qualify. If your “friend” can’t give you straight answers, beware.

Report suspicious activity to Facebook. You can report scammers to Facebook to help protect your real friends and family from a scam. You can reduce the risk of having your profile impersonated by tightening up your privacy settings and hiding your Friends list. Do a “Privacy Checkup” by clicking on the question mark at the top of your Facebook home page.

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Written by Rebecca Barr

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