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We hear on the news about people being hacked all the time, but our responses are generally the same: “It could never happen to me.”
Barb from Phoenix, Arizona, thought the same thing. She could smell a scam from a mile away. There was no way she was falling for a scammer pretending to be a Nigerian Prince, or believing she had a long lost relative who had just died and left her millions of dollars. Barb won’t fall for any of those tricks.
What she did fall for, however, was a scam from a Facebook friend. Only, it wasn’t her friend. A cunning scammer had hacked into her friend’s account and began messaging her about a new federal grant that would pay her $100,000.
Barb needed the money. She lived on Social Security. On occasions, she had to sell off some of her possessions, like her beloved electric dart board, just to make ends meet: “I had it for four years,” she remembered.
Barb is naturally skeptical. But this was a friend who was messaging her—someone she knew and trusted: “I went ‘Wow! I could buy another home and get my bills paid off,’” she told Arizona 3 On Your Side.
She was even more convinced when she received a Facebook message from Janet Yellen, a leading member with U.S. Federal Reserve: “She was high up in the government,” Barb recalled. “This lady knows the president. She’s got to. She’s right there in Washington.”
This time, the scammer used a fake account to dupe Barb and instill trust.
Then came the ask.
The scammer, at first, said they needed $100 by way of an Amazon gift card to start the application process. Barb obliged.
Then, they needed $1,000 to establish a federal account to deposit her funds; with a $100,000 grant on the way, Barb thought it might be logical that a special account needed setting up. So she paid the $1,000.
Next, the scammer asked for $1,200 to pay for the taxes on the grant. Again, Barb paid up. And then she paid another $1,200.
By this point, Barb had emptied her accounts. She was now $3,500 in the hole and yet the scammer was still asking for more: “I said, ‘I don’t have it. I just don’t have anymore. You have all of my money. I’m in the same spot as before I met you,'” Barb said.
It was at this point that Barb looked closer at her friend’s Facebook account. She noticed that she had logged in from a mobile device in Nigeria. “Nigeria?” she thought. She knew she had been duped.
“I just couldn’t believe what I had done. As smart as I thought I was, how come I didn’t catch this?” she said.
Barb never got her money back. After all, U.S/Nigeria government relations aren’t exactly great. Barb’s story is not rare, either. In fact, it happens to unsuspecting people every single day—and unlike having your credit card stolen, the chance of ever seeing that money again is slim-to-none.
It could happen to you
Too often we hear these stories and assume it would never happen to us. But this was Barb’s legitimate friend on Facebook, not a random email from a spammer. She was writing back and forth. Nothing seemed off.
In the moment, it’s easy to get caught up and wish something was real. Perhaps we overlook the subtle signs. Perhaps we ignore the fact that our friend is always too busy to speak on the phone, or that a government representative would message us directly to arrange the transfer. We think it would never happen to us.
The most important way to protect yourself is, of course, to stay skeptical. Never take anything for granted. But also use tools to secure your devices, retain your privacy, and keep yourself anonymous online. Hotspot Shield is a free app that does just that. Simply click “connect” and your internet connection is secure against hackers.
Barb never thought it could happen to her—and yet it did. Don’t let it happen to you.