Con artists switch from mail & phone scams to texts & social media

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Via Radio Iowa

Iowans are being warned about a couple of new scams that target Facebook users.  Jim Hegarty, with the Better Business Bureau in Omaha/Council Bluffs, says to be very wary if you get a message that appears to be from the founder of the social media giant.  “First, people are contacted by people claiming to be Mark Zuckerburg or other senior executives, telling them they’ve won a Facebook lottery,” Hegarty says. “Victims are told some fees are needed to deliver the money and victims who pay are told there are more fees needed for clarification.”

There is no Facebook lottery. While getting a message from Zuckerburg should send up a red flag for most of us, we would tend to be much more trusting if the message is from someone we know. That’s the hinge of the other new scam.  “Victims hear from a Facebook friend, telling them that the friend has won a large amount of money and saying they saw the victim’s name on a list of winners,” Hegarty says. “Of course, these contacts do not come from actual friends though that gives these a strong aura of credibility.”  That “friend” tells the victim to contact a third party to get their winnings, and again, there’s a fee for getting the cash prize but it never arrives.

An elderly couple from Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, was drawn into a lottery scheme and recently came forward. Both were in their 80s and were showing signs of early dementia. Several con artists piled onto the couple over two years.  “They were on the hook with scammers that were working them from one end of the country to the other,” Hagerty says. “All kinds of reasons why they could never deliver the winnings. Over the course of those two years, they sent over $150,000 in wire transfers. They ended up losing essentially everything. Their life savings were gone.”

Nationwide last year, the BBB took 150,000 complaints from consumers reporting scams. The estimated loss to victims is $117-million, but Hegarty says that amount could be ten times higher as many people don’t report being ripped off.