It’s a scam that’s growing in popularity on social networks such as Facebook.
You receive a Facebook message from one of your online friends asking for help.
They’re in a foreign country, they say, and desperately need you to wire them some money as they’ve lost their wallet/air tickets/passport, They may even pepper the messages with mention of their spouse or the kids who are with them, lulling you into a false sense of security that their dilemma is genuine.
In fact, a hacker has broken into your online friend’s account and is using their profile as a disguise to fool you into making a hasty money transfer.
This is just the kind of scam which has hit Jayne Scherrman after a hacker hijacked the account of her friend Grace Parry.
According to media reports, Scherrman, who lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, went to Western Union to wire money to someone who she believed to be her friend after receiving several requests for help via Facebook:
"Mike and I are in London, we've been robbed, we've lost everything, including our cell phone, credit cards, airline tickets, and maybe need $600 to help us get home."
The scam went one stage further, however, as Scherrman says that she was also called by a man with an English accent posing as an immigration official. This man, according to Sergeant Jason Selzer of the Cape Girardeau Police Department, asked for even more money to be sent to free Parry and her husband from detention..
In total, Scherrman is said to have sent almost $4000 in three different wire transfers to scammers who could be based anywhere in the world.
The sad truth is that people are far too trusting of messages they receive via social networks. Just because it appears to come from a friend, doesn’t mean that it’s a friend who typed and sent it. It’s perfectly possible that your online friends have had their account passwords stolen and have lost control of their Facebook profiles.
My advice? If you receive a message from a friend asking you to wire them money, treat them with suspicion. And if you want to confirm if they’re really in dire straits or not, ask them for a phone number where you can call them. At least then you’ll be able to tell if it’s their voice or not.