Watch out on social media, as scammers use the old trick of social engineering to fake being your friends and convince you to hand over money.
It wouldn’t be a day ending in “y” if a scammer didn’t try to get our money, and since it is a day ending in “y”, there’s another attempt.
Lately, these attempts seem to be happening with more regularity, and social seems to be the battleground more than ever, as scammers clone your friends and attempt to lure you in using their name.
A new version of somebody you used to know
If you get a message request out of the blue from someone you’re already friends with sporting the same name and same image, but you were convinced you were already their friend, there’s a good chance that new version is a scammer.
It could have happened from something as simple as that person falling for a password scam and accidentally handing over details, or more likely that they themselves fell for a fake friend and became friends with the fake, as well. Either situation technically opens up a list of friends and followers for the scammer to borrow from, drawing inspiration by creating fake profiles and sending messages out to friends.
Or to put it simply: scammers are borrowing from your friend and follower list to make versions of themselves they can try to trick others with.
If Gotye wanted to scream about anything, it would be connecting with a scammer that he used to know.
Why scammers clone your friends
You’ve probably heard before that scammers and cybercriminals are all about a sense of urgency, getting you to commit to something before you have the chance to think about it yourself.
That’s a problem, because if you’re lured in with the promise of money or risk, we can sometimes forget ourselves and the regular rules we have for life. Specifically to take everything with a grain of salt, and to think before we act.
A cloned version of a friend can heighten the sense of urgency because you know someone, even if the language a scammers uses is possibly out of kilter with how your friend speaks.
It’s always about money
More important, scammers do this to relieve you of your money, stealing with a grift that hardly leaves you with a gift, and more just takes something away.
We’ve seen numerous angles, from free gift cards with money needed to ship them to you to investment scams using bitcoin and super, and lately there’s a revived free money scam purporting to be from America’s Publishers Clearing House, which itself is embroiled in its own controversy.
A recent scammer used all of this with this journalist, advising that we could send $2450 to organise a certificate and cheque to get access to a full $100K, coordinating with a government agent who also happened to have their own Facebook profile.
Unsurprisingly, scams that clone your friends and use social engineering are typically all about money, because those are among the mostly lucrative for scammers in the world.
ACCC’s Scamwatch has tracked well over $250 million worth of scams in 2023 alone, and most of that comes from investment scams. Worse, we’re only halfway through the year, suggesting we’ll easily get to $500 million by the time the year is over.
All of this means you can expect more scammers to try a money angle with you, so you need to be on your best to see it coming.
How to avoid being fooled by a social scammer
Social engineering scams like these won’t stop, but there are some things you can do.
For instance, if a new friend wants to add you, check to see whether the old version of the friend is still on your profile or list. If they are, send them a message on the old account and ask if they’re still there and whether they’re aware of a new one masquerading as them.
If you have the option, report the new profile to the social platform for pretending to be someone, and see if you can convince that real friend to do the same. The faster these accounts are locked down and removed, the better it is for everyone.
Next and on Facebook, make sure your friend list is only accessible to friends. This might seem small, but it’ll mean if a scammer has attempted to clone you, there’s less chance they’ll be more convincing to friends of yours. By not being able to see your friend list, they won’t be able to send messages to people you know as you.
And if someone reaches out to you in the guise of someone else, ask them a question that only the real person would know, or mention a fact with the same principle.
In a recent celebrity scam, a fake celebrity tried to impress upon this journalist how real they are, only to come up short in some of the questions that were asked.
Scammers won’t know the answers to everything, so asking them something the real person would know — or faking it — will typically throw them and their script.
Think before you agree to anything
Most importantly, think before you commit to anything.
Remember that scammers are hoping you won’t do just that, and will instead respond to a sense of urgency by doing rather than thinking. Having a good long think will help you to engage some common sense, and might just get you asking the right questions before something bad happens.