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BBB: Is it really a friend on Facebook?

May 08, 2020

Flattening the curve. Social distancing. Quarantine. Terms not commonplace just a few months ago are now. Now, plenty of (bored) people who are connected to the internet are using the downtime to catch up with friends on social media or randomly surfing the web. 

Unfortunately, so are scammers. They will take advantage of social networking sites, earning victims’ trust by pretending to be someone they already know and send out a message or two with a great new cure for COVID-19, a fundraising request or perhaps a discount on the most sought after items such as toilet paper, face masks and sanitizers.


How the scam works

While scrolling through Facebook, a message pops up in Facebook Messenger. It’s a friend, family member, or neighbor. At least it “looks” like them because the profile picture matches. From here, the conversation goes one of two ways. In one version, the “friend” informed about the latest cure, prevention tactic against the coronavirus or the most awesome deal they found on masks. All you have to do is select a link, share the good news, or simply respond to the message. In some cases, perhaps you want to take part in the offer and are ready to pay a processing fee and tax. Stop and think: would the real friend pass along this type of information?

In another version, the “friend” claims to be raising money for a charity to support emergency personnel, a food bank or some other organization that has really been hit hard by coronavirus situation. They ask for a donation. In either case, you’d normally be suspicious of the situation, but the message is coming from someone you know and trust. Or is it?

Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns everyone before responding to such a request, check that the Facebook profile image is from who it says it is. Or, go the extra step and call, text, or email the friend to see if they really did send it to you. 


How to protect yourself from Facebook scams

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

• Do some research. Go to BBB.org/scamtracker to see if the online website selling masks (or whatever product the friend is mentioning) is truly legitimate. 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 strategic questions without giving any personal information to confirm you are actually talking to someone you know. If the “friend” can’t give straight answers, leave the conversation, block them, and then change your Facebook settings as well as your password.

• 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.


For more information

To learn more about avoiding scams, read BBB’s article 10 Steps to Avoid Scams. To learn about online charity fundraising, check out these tips on Give.org. Also, see Give.org’s Giving Guidance & Tips.

Report your experience on BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your experience can help others to spot a scam.

Additional information can be found at BBB.org/coronavirus.

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.



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