ATLANTA — The likelihood of someone you reaching out to you on social media to offer you free money is just about zero.
Which is why the Better Business Bureau is warning people to be on the lookout for scammers doing just that.
The BBB has been getting flooded with complaints on their “scam tracker” site, stating con artists are posing as a friend after stealing Facebook and Instagram account information and promoting fake COVID-19 relief grants. It’s basically the same as a “phishing” e-mail.
The consumer protection agency explained how the scam works: “You get a Facebook Messenger chat or Instagram direct message that looks like it comes from a friend, relative, community member, or other person you trust. The message is telling you about a grant for COVID-19 relief. Your ’friend’ may claim to have already applied and received thousands of dollars,” the BBB says.
“Scammers are either hacking social media accounts or creating separate lookalike profiles by stealing photos and personal information. Either way, these con artists are banking that you will trust a message that appears to come from someone you know, they explained.
The bureau says one victim was contacted by someone posing as a leader in their church, “This scam was very convincing. [It looked like it came from] someone I know and trust,’ they wrote. ’Because of COVID-19, I’m laid off, so I would try it. [The scammer] said my name was on a list to receive this grant money. I lost $1,000.00 of my unemployment.”
The BBB also warns you may not be targeted just through social media. There are similar versions of the scam using phone calls and/or text messages. They also add this warning: No matter how you hear about a “grant,” there’s a major catch! To get the “grant,” you need to pay upfront first. The scammer will claim the money pays for “delivery” or “processing.” The scammer will take the money, and your grant will never materialize.
The BBB’s suggestions if you aren’t sure about what you’ve received:
- Be wary of your friends’ taste online. If the message looks out of character, it could be from a hacked account.
- Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” grant, it isn’t really free.
- Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate.
- Report scam accounts and messages to Facebook and Instagram.
The Better Business Bureau has an informational website about Government Scams with more information on what you can do to protect yourself.
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