How Scammers Use Social Media to Scam Victims Again
When I started Scammed on Facebook, I set it up as an informational site to provide information on scams and how to avoid being a victim. I created the site after writing a book The Big Con, based on a book-to-film scam I discovered, since one of the companies I worked for as a ghostwriter offered a service of adapting books to scripts, since I had done this for many clients. But then I discovered that the company was using imposter executives from real companies to get the authors to create more and more materials and to pay them for creating a marketing campaign. So their scripts and marketing pitches went nowhere. After that I began investigating and writing a book about all kind of scams — from identity fraud to real estate, customer/merchant, and email/phone/social media scams — called I Was Scammed, since turned into a series of five books. Both are also being turned into films.
However, what I didn’t expect was that some of the individuals joining the Scammed group would use it to scam other members of the group. This began happening after the group reached over 150 members — now at 235 members. I didn’t realize these offers that might be scams were occurring at first, since some members posted their experience about how they had lost money to scammers.
But then the likely scams began by individuals who had just joined the group. They posted comments and soon began to write their own posts. While some comments offered sympathy to the scam victims or shared their thoughts about how scammers often use this approach to defraud victims, a few posters began suggesting services to help the victim. In some cases, they posted links to websites of people they claimed helped them, while a few invited the scam victim to contact them and they could help.
After a few days, some new group members became even bolder. One recommended a hacker who could help someone find the person who scammed them or restore their computer, and they provided a link to this alleged hacker. Another claimed to have lost money to a scammer and recommended a service that had helped them get it back and included a link, too. Several new members put up a post within a few hours of joining accusing a particular individual or company that had ripped them off and included photographs or links which featured large photos and copy about the alleged scammer.
As I discovered these posts, I deleted them, and soon I began posting guidelines about what kind of posts and comments were acceptable. As I wrote in the first of these posts which I designated as a featured post on November 26 last year:
“Now that this group has gotten larger, I’ve noticed that there are some promotional posts or off-topic posts. I welcome anyone who wants to share about their experience with scams, resources in the field, articles on the topic, and the like. But I will be hiding or removing posts that seem to be commercials for some product or service that is unrelated to scams or post a website that has some unrelated product or service.
“Also, I wanted to add that this is not the place to post accusations against individuals who you think scammed you or others, unless they are mentioned in an article in the mainstream media or in a book published by a mainstream publisher. If so, you need to cite that article or book in your post. The reason for this is that these are allegations and there is a risk of defamation or slander charges should the name individual choose to pursue such mentions. I don’t include such names in my own articles and books about scams. There are some other sites about scams where you can post such information. The emphasis here is on different types of scams and how you can avoid them.”
But that statement didn’t seem to deter the comments or posts, so on January 21, I posted an even firmer reminder.
“Now that we have grown to 215 members, this is just a reminder to anyone new joining the group that this group is for information about scams, and it will include news reports from the mainstream media about scams. This is not for naming particular scammers, unless they are mentioned in news reports, because of concerns about defamation and unless there are legal proceedings or arrests, these are just allegations. Also, this is not the place for promotional posts about particular companies or services. One reason is that scammers sometimes go after people who are scammed with services that end up scamming them again. I will remove any such posts, and may start moderating the group.
The irony is that soon after I posted that statement, one individual posted an offer to help with such services. “Just message me,” she said. Soon afterwards, a second individual posted a description of a company to avoid because it ripped her off. Needless to say, I deleted those comments within an hour.
Finally, after I posted a request for help in figuring out how to moderate the group, I got an offer from one woman who just joined to become a moderator, because, she claimed, she had helped many other groups do this, and I noticed that she was a member of about 500 groups. But who can possibly be a contributing member of so many groups?
Soon after that, I figured out from a list of Facebook guidelines and services how to moderate the group myself, so I quickly declined her offer, and within a few hours, I had a second offer to be a moderator from her, as well as two other requests to participate, although the individuals didn’t include their posts for me to preview. So I added another rule that only members could submit posts and that they had to be members for at least a week. Additionally, I added two questions: “How long have you been a member?” and “Do you understand that a post can’t promote a particular service or name a particular scammer?”
Accordingly, based on my experience in running this group, it’s important for anyone running or participating in a social media group to be on guard again scammers. They may seek to use the group to lure unsuspecting individuals who may have been the victims of a previous scam or just be interested in the subject. Certainly, some posts with links by long-time members may be perfectly legitimate, and usually the scammers have recently joined a group in order to scam individual members. But it can be hard to tell. Thus, here are some warning signs and problems to avoid:
1) Scammers are likely to be newcomers to a group, since they are joining primarily to find scam victims. They will often join and within a few hours post their offer. So be cautious about anyone who has just joined who touts a service or offers to help themself.
2) Scammers may use offers to message them for help to get group members to trust them and then may offer their service or links. So don’t respond, unless the message is from a long-time member who has posted other comments before.
3) Scammers may include links to other sites of services to help scammers. Sometimes such links can be ploys to get personal information or access to a person’s computer, so don’t click the links.
4) Scammers may post warnings about particular individuals they claim are scammers. In some cases, these are ploys to get individuals to click the link to find out more, which can be a ploy to get personal information or computer access, so don’t click the link. Or even if it’s a real post to claim someone or company is a scam, a post about a particular individual or company is just an allegation, which may or may not be true. If it isn’t, any group administrator could be contributing to a defamation or revenge post. Thus, if you are a group administrator, remove such posts.
5) Once a group is moderated, scammers who just joined may seek the approval of a post without submitting the planned post itself, and if you have questions for them to answer, such as the length of their membership or do they understand the group’s rules about posting, they won’t answer them. In that case, remove the post and possibly provide an explanation why. Should the individual try to post again, remove the individual from the group.
In sum, you have to be careful about social media posts generally, and this may be even more true on sites about scams. In my experience, scammers may go after scam victims or those interested in scams in order to defraud them by claiming to help the victims or by providing information on other scammers.
The author is internationally published author and film producer, Gini Graham Scott, PhD, who has published over 200 books, 50 for traditional publishers and 150 for her own company Changemakers Publishing, specializing in books on self-help, popular business, and social issues. She is the author of The Big Con: Scams Targeting Writers, the Victims, and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim and I Was Scammed about all types of scams and how to avoid them. She has written and executive produced 18 feature films and documentaries, featured on the www.changemakersproductionsfilms.com website. An inspiration for this article is that Changemakers Productions is now raising money for its first horror film Dark Cabin, which features 6 friends on a vacation up against Viking ghosts. It’s filming in the New York area in February 2022, and other horror films are planned. She also writes books and scripts for clients. Her website for writing is at www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com.
For more information or to set up an interview, contact:
Executive Assistant to Gini Graham Scott
Changemakers Publishing and Writing
Lafayette, CA 94549 . (925) 385–0608