This week, I received a Facebook message from a friend of my parents. The message asked how I was doing and said that my friend and his wife were doing well. That seemed harmless enough. A few lines later, my friend mentioned that he had just received a $100,000 prize. Now my suspicions were up.
After the initial “How are you” and my friend’s reference to his wife by name, the conversation went like this:
Friend: “It’s good to hear from you wondering if you’ve received your Mega Bonus too?”
Me: “No Mega Bonus here.”
Friend: “I meant the cash donated to randomly selected people by the Publishers Clearing House and the PokerStar Mega Bonus Association to help the Old, Retired, Disable, Young’s, Worker’s to support people financially?”
Me: "Hmmm. I don’t know about that. The last several times people have mentioned those it has been in the context of a scam.”
Friend: “Oh ok but this is real and legit I got $100,000 cash! But I saw your name on the winners list of people entitle to the Cash Bonus when I want to sign on my winning document. I think you should contact the AGENT to claim your own money do you know how to that?”
Me: “I don’t know anything about it.”
Friend: “Text the agent on this number. (415) 5x9-4xxx and Phxxx1@gmail.com, Message Him and tell him that a friend told you about these and you are here to claim your winning money. Let me know when you done that.”
There were several things about this conversation on Facebook Messenger that were red flags for typical fraud: anything mentioning cash giveaways, unusual grammar, action needed to claim a winning prize, an agent with a Gmail account rather than an official company email address, etc.
But there were also several things about this con that stood out. The Friend referred to his wife with the correct first name. The giveaway was aimed at vulnerable groups of people who might really be desperate for any potential help during these trying times. Fortunately, I did not join the growing list of victims this day.
It was easy to report the suspicious message to Facebook. The message gave me the opportunity to report inappropriate and specify that someone was impersonating a friend. Within a few minutes, my friend's Facebook account was disabled. I am not sure of the final result, but Facebook took its initial action quickly. I also reported the suspicious Gmail account to Google, but I haven't received any indication of whether Google is taking action on the account.
Financial exploitation against the elderly and other vulnerable groups has been increasing for years, and scammers are clearly upping their game during the Coronavirus pandemic. People should be more vigilant than ever to avoid becoming a victim.
If you are concerned about a client or a family member becoming a victim of financial exploitation or undue influence, then please take the appropriate action to help out those vulnerable people in your life.