Susan Tompor: Fake Facebook fundraiser shocks family with cancer diagnosis
Just imagine scrolling Facebook one day and making the shocking discovery that your brother has cancer. He never mentioned a thing to you. But now he's posting requests for donations to cover his medical costs?
And this is how you find out?
The sister picked up the phone and called her brother. Unfortunately, others just donated on the spot, no questions asked.
The thing is, the Troy, Michigan, man isn't battling cancer. But a scammer who set up the phony fundraiser had already accumulated $1,785 out of a $4,500 goal by the time the man discovered the terrible fraud, according to a report with the Troy Police Department.
How Facebook friends were tricked into giving money
The man who reported the incident at the station told police Sept. 26 that he later learned that someone had gained access to his Facebook account, changed the password, and set up an online fundraising campaign so the crooks could get money.
Sgt. Jason Clark, a spokesperson for the Troy Police Department, said Facebook unfortunately does not offer customer service via phone or provide anyone the opportunity to speak with someone.
"It is very difficult for a victim to recover a hacked account," he said.
"We have reviewed past reports where victims make a hacked account claim with Facebook and the page is deleted within 30 days," Clark said.
The consumer then must create a completely new Facebook account. Consumers are advised to review their security user names and passwords on all social media, and check their privacy setting. And, yes, alert friends and family when you spot something odd.
Amy Nofziger, AARP director of fraud victim support, said those who have been hacked like this need to contact the social media company where an account is being misrepresented or hacked and contact the local police department to make a report.
"Nothing gets the attention of some of these social media companies like a police report," she said.
By filing a police report, she said, the victim also has proof in hand to say that a fraud was reported just in case someone accuses the victim of starting the fake fundraiser.
Nofziger said she hears of Facebook scams every single day. Con artists pretend to post great deals on social media for shoes, car seats or vacations. Or they might claim to have access to $30,000 in federal grant money. All to collect your ID information and cash.
"Anyone can really create who they want to be and do really what they want to do," Nofziger said.
It's best to directly go to the person who appears to be needing money, perhaps to cover medical bills, and express your concern. Ask what you can do to help that person.
If they say they don't know what you're talking about, Nofziger said, you can inform your friend or family member that there's a scammer out there.
Some signs of charity scams
Nofziger said people need to be reminded to do what they're comfortable doing.
If they're asked to give gift cards or send money via Bitcoin, for example, such payment forms can be signs of a scam. Never give a stranger your bank account number and routing number.
Don't let anyone rush you into contributing money because that's another sign of a scam.
"Don't assume that a request on social media is legitimate, or that hyperlinks are accurate just because a friend posted it," according to an alert by the Federal Trade Commission.
GoFundMe, for example, says it has a contact button for the fundraiser organizer and a "Report Fundraiser" button.
"If you have any questions about the fundraiser, you can easily reach the organizer and ask them directly," according to Ese Esan, a GoFundMe spokesperson.
"In addition, clicking the 'Report Fundraiser' will result in one of our specialists investigating the fundraiser," she said. "We take these reports very seriously, and we will take immediate action if anything is wrong."
Overall, Esan said, the platform is backed by a GoFundMe guarantee, which means funds are guaranteed to go to the right place or the consumer will get a refund.
Since 2010, the GoFundMe platform has been used to raise more than $15 billion from 200 million donations across the world.
But scammers are pretty slick. Back in 2017, a scheme defrauded thousands of people out of $400,000 with a feel-good story that went viral about a homeless veteran and a fictionalized GoFundMe page called "Paying it Forward." In December 2018, GoFundMe announced it would refund the money to those who made donations. Legal action was taken.
Facebook did not respond to questions from the Detroit Free Press about the situation in Troy or its policies.
Facebook lists a form online on "How to report a personal fundraiser fraud on Facebook" and it offers a way online to "Report a suspicious fundraiser."
Facebook also warns consumers about a form of donation scams where the con artists impersonate "famous religious figures, or by accounts pretending to be representatives from various charities or orphanages."
A scam that goes just a bit too far
We've all heard of romance scams, lottery scams and inheritance scams where crooks play with your emotions to make you think you've found the love of your life or hit the jackpot.
But impersonating your brother Joe to get dough? And making you fear that he's in a battle for his life? This, friends, hits a new low even among slimy scammers.
It seems like a new twist of sorts of the "Grandma Scam" where someone calls your house pretending to be your grandchild — or niece or nephew — and then tells an upsetting story about being in the hospital or in jail.
Scammers mine social media or even buy information from data thieves to craft rich, believable stories. The con artists often know the name of your relative or friend to make the scam more convincing.
Make no mistake, the grandparent scam is ongoing. Earlier this year, the FBI reported that the scam was making the rounds in western New York where the so-called grandchild claimed they had been in a serious car accident.
The grandchild, based on the scam, always needs money now to post bond.
As part of the scam, the potential victim will even end up talking to phony attorney who will direct the grandparent to go to their local bank and withdraw a large sum of money, maybe as much as $15,000 in cash, to put the cash in an envelope, and then to wait for a courier to arrive at their house.
In some cases, the FBI notes, ride share drivers might unknowingly play a role in the scam by picking up the envelope.
Many people could be facing high medical bills during the pandemic, as well.
Early in the pandemic, many scammers would play up COVID-19 concerns, said Alex Hamerstone, director of advisory solutions for Cleveland-based TrustedSec.
Scammers, he said, will even rip off a name or story from the headlines to create a fake account to steal donations from a legitimate fundraising effort.
One of the problems, he said, is that Facebook accounts are fairly easily created with simply a phone number and an email.
"Facebook does not do anything to check that the phone number is associated with that name," Hamerstone said.
In general, he said, it's best to try to verify the fundraising account, perhaps by calling a friend or family member before making a contribution.
Many of us, of course, are all too eager to help, especially when it comes to a beloved family member or friend. Yet, making an extra call can save you a great deal of heartache and money.