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An intern in our office recently received a Facebook friend request from a relative he hadn’t seen in years. Not wanting to be rude, he accepted. Within minutes, the relative began messaging him. At first the messages were your standard distant relative messages “How are you? How is the family?” However, the messages quickly took an interesting turn when the fake relative asked if he had received his grant award.

When he asked what was meant by “grant award,” the “relative” informed him that a man had visited her at her house with a briefcase full of money and a list of her family members whom the money was being awarded to. Understandably suspicious, he told the “relative” that he would look into the matter later and had to get back to studying.

At this point the “relative” became very aggressive (which is a common scam sign) sending all-caps messages to the effect of “THIS IS NOT A JOKE, YOU ARE LEAVING MONEY ON THE TABLE.” Our intern checked his list of Facebook friends and realized his real relative was someone he was already friends with and that there were several alerts from other friends of the imposter account. He unfriended the imposter and warned his family not to accept the friend request.

Creating an imposter account can be very easy and the imposters rely on our tendency to overshare information about our lives on social media. Using the pictures and name tags we post, they are able to connect family members and/ or other close relationships. Once the connection is made, scammers can offer promises of free money (they usually suggest giving them the pertinent bank account numbers and they’ll have it deposited) or request money (they are in a tricky situation and need some bailing out).

If you believe a friend or relative may not be who they claim to be on Facebook, check for the following:

  • Look at the date the account was created. If it’s new and you know your real friend has an older account, cease communications with the imposter.
  • Check who their friends are. If they have very few friends or are not friends with other members of your family, be wary.
  • Ask your friend or relative if they friended you.
  • Review the privacy settings on your account and limit what information you share with others.
  • Report imposter accounts. Find information from Facebook on how to do so here: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/169486816475808

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm.  Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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