As we continue to digitize most parts of our day-to-day lives, we inadvertently create room for malicious individuals to exploit. While we socialize, do business, and search for love online, cybercriminals exploit the loopholes that exist in these online activities to wreak havoc on our finances.
Owing to widespread awareness, common internet scams like the infamous "Nigerian prince" fraud are now easily discerned by potential victims. Unfortunately, scammers have evolved and now employ more sophisticated tactics to defraud their victims. And social media plays a key part in that. Here's what you need to look out for, and how to spot online scams.
1. Instragam Celebrity Scam
Although largely unnoticed, Instagram celebrity scams are one of the most financially costly examples of fraud on the internet. Unlike most scams that involve small amounts of money, this type of scam—typically orchestrated on, but not necessarily isolated to, Instagram—is designed to hit victims hard in one swoop.
Scammers set up fan pages for popular celebrities and pay some underground service providers to get lots of followers, usually hundreds of thousands of fake followers. Through this, they're able to build some semblance of legitimacy.
Fan pages for adult movie stars and Hollywood B-list celebrities are the most popular options. In some cases, fan pages for popular musicians and "miracle-working" clergies are used.
Scammers watch the comment section of a post made by the celebrities they're impersonating to identify potential targets. Die-hard fans and people who express intent to meet those celebrities are penciled down and privately messaged.
The targets are offered opportunities to either meet or perform some form of transaction with the impersonated celebrity.
Scammers impersonating adult stars will typically offer a "fun-filled vacation" with their principal, while those impersonating clergymen will offer different variations of a "private miracle session." The targets are then asked to pay a bogus agency fees to the celebrity's management team, typically running into thousands of dollars.
After payments, the victims are either blocked or roped into paying more by being asked to pay for transportation and other logistics.
Because of the embarrassing nature of these scams, victims rarely talk about their experiences, and, as a result, it keeps spreading with very little public awareness.
There are some simple things you can do to avoid this kind of scam:
- Primarily deal with verified celebrity pages.
- When dealing with unverified accounts, avoid those that insist on payment through gift cards, cryptocurrency, or other anonymous means of payment.
- Always do thorough research of a celebrity's management team before committing to any form of payment.
- Remember that most of these opportunities aren't opportunities at all: they're scams.
2. Telegram Cryptocurrency Scam
The Telegram cryptocurrency scam is a bogus cryptocurrency mining scheme carried out on Telegram groups. Like most scams executed on social media apps, the scammers leverage a huge number of participants to spoof legitimacy.
Telegram groups used for this kind of scam are typically filled with dummy accounts and unwilling participants. The scammers themselves operate dozens of fake accounts, which they use to share fake proof and testimonials of huge proceeds they've purportedly made.
The proof is typically very convincing. It's usually in the form of short video clips of people sharing success stories. Sometimes, made-up screenshots of PayPal, Skrill, or Payoneer payments are shared by fake accounts.
Scammers employing this scam tactic usually have a professional website for their operations. They'll typically tell their targets to use only their official site and warn against transactions on unofficial entities on Telegram. Of course, this is just part of a sophisticated plan to appear legitimate.
The anonymity that both cryptocurrency and Telegram offer gives this scam its potency. Victims can't really do a lot about them even after they've been fleeced.
This tactic comes in different variations. However, irrespective of the variant a scammer deploys, there are usually three telltale signs:
- Fake proof, often including testimonials.
- Lots of inactive participants.
- Messages in the group are mostly sent by the same accounts.
To fleece unsuspecting Telegram group members, the scammers ask them to invest in a cryptocurrency mining operation. It could be to pay for a "cryptocurrency mining rig" or some bogus tool that they'll claim will be used for mining cryptocurrency. Once the target makes a payment, they kick them out of the group or use other means to squeeze them of even more money.
In some instances, after victims make a payment, the scammers give them something in return. In such a case, the cybercriminal's goal is to build trust in order to get as much money as possible from their victims in the long run.
To avoid this kind of scam, only transact with reputable cryptocurrency businesses. Also, ignore messages asking you to pay a certain fee to secure a tool to mine cryptocurrency.
3. Facebook Dating Scams
In the past, dating scams were mainly carried out on dating apps and websites. Fortunately, most people have learned not to trust random strangers they meet on dating sites. With that frontier being less profitable, scammers have evolved their tactics. They've taken up Facebook as a viable platform to execute their scams.
Why Facebook? Trust! One of a scammer's greatest weapons is getting their targets to trust them. Since Facebook provides a snapshot of an individual's life, it's easy for their targets to feel they know the scammer by just scrolling through their profile. You see pictures of them, their kids, cats, dogs, homes, and you start feeling some form of connection.
Of course, that's all fake.
Previously, scammers would simply set up a fake Facebook profile to con their victims. Nowadays, Facebook has made that incredibly hard. Scammers now resort to buying preexisting Facebook accounts. There's a surprisingly thriving black market for pawning off Facebook accounts.
They go for accounts that are at least eight years old, old enough to convince their targets that they aren't hastily created fake accounts.
Depending on the demographic they want to target, scammers will edit the purchased account to be appealing to their potential victims. They'll gradually build trust with their targets, but never ask for money or any gifts.
To further hook their victims, they'll give them access to a fake online banking platform—usually loaded with a lot of money—that they'll claim their company uses. They'll ask their targets to make payments to designated accounts on different occasions.
Of course, no money is actually moved. The platform only simulates a transaction and generates fake receipts. The idea is to lower their guards and believe that the scammer trusts them completely.
Eventually, they'll ask the target to make a payment to an account, only that this time, the payment won't go through. The scammer will subsequently feign frustration. After some days, the scammer asks the target to make payments using their own funds, pending the resolution of the problem with the banking platform.
Because the target believes that the scammer is rich and would pay them back once the issue with the banking platform is resolved, they fall for this trap.
To avoid this kind of scam, simply avoid making any financial transaction at the behest of someone you're dating online.
Evolving Nature of Online Scams
Scammers' trademark broken English and impatience is less visible in their operations today. They hire fluent speakers to do their dirty work. They also learn to bide their time and cultivate their targets patiently—sometimes even as long as one year—before they strike.
They switch tactics frequently. When the internet catches up with one, they switch to another. In order to stay safe online, it's important to stay informed about scam trends and avoid questionable entities that ask you to perform any financial transaction online.
According to the US's Federal Trade Commission, in 2020, scammers fleeced their victims of $304 million from romance scams alone. This represents an increase of 50 percent from the previous year. All together, billions of dollars are lost to scams each year.