Facebook users are being warned about “fake friends” — of a very literal kind.
WA’s consumer watchdog has sounded the alarm of a graft doing the rounds where Facebook users are duped into sending thousands of dollars to scammers, under the belief it will cover fees and taxes to facilitate a big financial windfall.
Since the start of April, Consumer Protection WA has received reports from 18 people of the scam, with the total amount lost reaching more than $100,000.
And recent reports show individual losses have grown, with three people reported to have lost between $14,000 and $16,000 each.
The scam comes down to “cloned” Facebook accounts, where images are stolen from legitimate profiles and used to create a duplicate used to message friends of the original account.
Scammers tell the friends they have won money in a lottery — and that their names are on the winners’ list too.
They then send a link to a bogus Facebook page claiming to be an “agent” who collects fees, as well as a website that lists “winners”.
Victims were asked to pay up administration costs, duty and delivery fees of up to $16,000, with the belief they are in for a windfall of between $150,000 and $300,000.
Scammers also send through tracking information from a made-up transport company.
The ruse was up for one victim when the “transport company” told them their delivery truck had been in an accident in Collie, and they were now to pay for a private driver and bodyguard to deliver the cash — even going so far as to send a photo of the damaged truck as evidence.
Consumer Protection commissioner David Hillyard said scammers had cottoned on to the idea a Facebook message from a friend was less likely to be questioned than a random message.
“The victims tell us that they went along with the sting because they thought the message was from a real friend, giving the whole scenario some legitimacy in the minds of those being targeted,” he said.
“We have been successful in getting the fake Facebook pages and websites shut down, but they just pop up again using different names and the highly lucrative scam continues to claim more victims.
“We encourage Facebookers to be aware of this scam and to question any communication which involves unexpected prizes and the upfront payment of fees. Contact the ‘friend’ outside of social media sites and verify if it is indeed them sending the messages.
“Do not reply or follow any links in the messages, just hit delete and block the sender — there are no real Facebook lotteries or beneficiary lists.”