Facebook is a social media channel used by millions of consumers to keep in touch with family and friends. We share pictures, videos, and even private messages with trusted loved ones. At times, data breaches by scam artists/hackers allow these individuals to log into peoples’ accounts.

A consumer from Kentucky recently shared her story with Fraud.org:

“I was contacted by a friend of mine on Facebook, because she had recently won $70,000 and saw that I was on the list of winners as well. She put me in touch with a company that was handling the prize disbursement, and I was told I had to pay $830 to get my prize. This friend of mine lives in my town and is the apartment manager where my blind son lives, so I really thought this was true, and I sent the money. A few days later, the prize disbursement company reached back out to me and requested an additional $1,250 for taxes. I told my friend that I didn’t have it, but she told me she ‘wanted to help’ me out, so she paid the shipping company $500. That left me with a balance of $750 to pay, which I did. I eventually realized that there was no prize and that I had been scammed out of $1,330.”

This Kentucky-based consumer wasn’t the only scam victim; her friend had also been hacked and was a victim herself—of identity theft!

Over the past 18 months, National Consumers League (NCL) has received more than 100 complaints about scams committed via social media. The above mentioned scam, known as the “Facebook Friend Scam,” is particularly convincing and lucrative for scammers who are able to pose as a friend of the victim.

The pitch is often that the fraudster has just won a prize or qualified for a federal grant, and that the friend they’re writing to will also qualify for the prize or grant. The scammer—posing as a friend— will inform the victim that all they need to do is pay the tax for the prize, or pay a filing fee to a company in order to receive the winnings. In some cases, fraudsters have even been known to offer to pay a portion of the fee or tax as a favor for their friend, because they just won the prize as well.

Consumers can take precautions to reduce their risk and to prevent their friends and family from becoming a victim of the Facebook Friend Scam.

Protect yourself and your social media contacts:

1. If a friend contacts you via e-mail or social media with a deal that seems too good to be true, call them directly on their cell or home phone to confirm if they sent the message.

2. Reduce the risk of your account from getting hacked by following these rules:

  • Use complex passwords
  • Never reuse passwords
  • Activate two-factor authentication

If you suspect any of your social media accounts have been hacked—report it immediately. You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via the secure online complaint form, which will be shared with a network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who investigate the complaints.

If you are interested in learning more about how to protect yourself from imposter scams, speak with a Community Resource Specialist of Sourcewise: (408) 350-3200, option 1.