The Facebook imposter scam is one of many Internet frauds that have come about through the advent of social media. There are many variations, and all of them can lead to serious losses - unless you spot them first.
What is the Facebook Imposter Scam?
The way this particular scam works is as follows:
- First, someone hacks into your Facebook account. This may be through some kind of coding trickery, but it could also be a lucky guess. If your password is your dog's name, and you have a picture of "Fluffy" on facebook, it's not too hard for someone to guess it.
- Second, they post an urgent message to all your friends' pages. This message is some kind of cry for help - for example, "I'm in London and my passport and wallet were stolen!" This is followed by a request for money to be sent through some alternate source.
You may think that no one would fall for this kind of a scam - but remember, this is coming from a personal facebook account. It's the same account that announced the birth of their niece, posted embarrassing pictures of the office party, or that went through the heartbreak of changing relationship status to single. For many people, Facebook is almost intimate in the way it allows people to stay connected.
There is also the disadvantage in that Facebook allows people to have hundreds of friends - and with that large a pool of possible marks, the scam artists know that they have a good chance at hooking someone. In some cases, people have formed quite close relationships only through Facebook - so there is no reason they would not want to help their friend in what appears to be their hour of need. Thousands of dollars have been lost to these online grifters.
Not Just Facebook
The Facebook imposter scam is not actually limited to Facebook. In fact, it likely has existed for as long as people have been able to communicate over distances. Other popular social networking platforms such as MySpace have reported similar issues. It is simply the size of the Facebook membership that makes it such a ripe hunting ground for the scam artists. However, any web communication - from email to instant messenger or even Twitter - could be used to try the same game.Other common tactics scam artists use to gain access to your passwords is to send you a message - whether in Facebook or email - telling you that you need to "change" your password. When you click on the link, you think you are going to Facebook - but in reality you are on a site that only looks like Facebook, and when you enter your password to "change" it, the scammers have you.
Avoiding the Scam
Like most online scams, the Facebook imposter scam relies on trusting people doing ill-considered things without checking. In almost any case, a simple phone call will verify whether or not a cry for help is genuine. There's also the simple matter of taking the time to think: if your friend were really in trouble, is Facebook the means by which they would ask for help?
It's possible the answer is yes - but it's still worth following up, and following up with some personal questions to establish identity. Ask them where you first met, for example, or what the last conversation the two of your had was about. You can also use alternate means of communication, such as email, to try and verify their identity.
Anytime you are asked to log in or do something else with your account, check the URL link location - if it is not Facebook.com or another trusted site, do not enter any personal information - instead, report it to Facebook.
You should also take the simple precaution on your own account to change your passwords for real to things that are not easily guessable, and to change them on a regular basis. Any suspicious activity should be reported to Facebook, which has an entire page dedicated to avoiding similar situations.