Authorities are warning social media users of an elaborate scam circulating through Facebook Messenger and the Words with Friends app that’s tricking Americans into believing they donated money to terrorist groups.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General issued a fraud alert on Monday to warn people of scammers contacting them through apps with a messaging feature.
According to the alert, the scam works in two parts.
Using popular apps like Facebook Messenger or Words with Friends, the scammer will initiate a conversation with the victim.
“Alternatively, the perpetrator feigns romantic interest and pursues the victim through online dating services or chat rooms,” the alert reads. “After gaining the victim’s trust through the online relationship, the perpetrator describes a minor hardship and persuades the victim to send them a small amount of money.”
The next day, the scammer calls the victim posing as a law enforcement official.
The fraud alert explained that the perpetrators “spoof the caller ID of a legitimate law enforcement phone number” to make the phone call seem legitimate.
During that call, the fraudster informs the victim that the money they’d been tricked into providing had actually funded a “criminal group” or terrorist organization like al-Qaida or the Islamic State group, and suggests the victim could face serious consequences, including “arrest and imprisonment.”
The victim is then given a phone number or email address for a “lawyer” who can supposedly help them resolve the issue.
But the so-called “lawyer” tells the victim they must pay “$1,000 or more via check, wire transfer, or other methods as a ‘retainer,'” the alert reads.
DHS said it’s investigating the matter and reminded the public that phone numbers from law enforcement agencies and other government organizations “may be subject to spoofing.”
“Individuals receiving phone calls from these numbers should not provide any personal information,” the warning stated. “Legitimate law enforcement callers will never ask you to pay fines over the phone or request money from you.”
Back in December 2017, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai offered some tips to help members of the public avoid being ripped off by malicious scammers.
In March 2018, Facebook announced it would implement better machine recognition technology to detect scammers and delete their accounts before they can reach out to potential victims.
“These ploys are not allowed on Facebook and we’re constantly working to better defend against them,” Facebook’s statement read.
The company said the new machine learning models are trained to “look for instances where people are reaching out to others far beyond their typical network of connections, or in unusually large volumes, along with other behavior patterns.”
Facebook also said it’s utilizing a “dedicated set of trained reviewers” to help take down scams across the platform.
DHS encouraged members of the public who have been victimized by these sorts of scams to reach out to the department’s hotline at 1-800-323-8603 or file a complaint at www.oig.dhs.gov.
Facebook also asked social media users to report profiles believed to be running scams at facebook.com/report.
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