Telling stories

“Help, I was mugged in London and need $900 to get home!”

Posted by southwrite on August 2, 2009

While I was enjoying a blissfully unplugged Saturday morning, that was the substance of on-line conversations between several of my friends and…me. Yes, each of them was being contacted through my Facebook account with a dire message: I need your help. Can you send money?” Someone had hacked into my account, and used social media to assume my identity.

The ploy unraveled because most people knew I was at home in Atlanta – that was on Facebook too. When one friend raised that point, “I” abruptly logged off.

This particular scam – lame as it seems – is more common than you might think. So common that Facebook has a special section devoted to “419” or Advance Fee Fraud scams which you can read about here.

Deceptions designed to separate us from our money are commonplace and some have an extraordinarily long life span. Over the past 20 years, I’ve gotten numerous letters from Nigeria written by a wealthy foreigner who promises a big cut if I will only help in moving several millions dollars out of the county. All I need to do is put a small amount of money to facilitate the move…  First they arrived by snail mail, but since then the Nigerians got a fax machine and finally e-mail.

Over the years the gullible have turned over at least $100 million in a quest for these riches. Maybe it’s an inclination toward magical thinking that makes so many vulnerable to the “too good to be true” scam. Even the sophisticated fall for it – think Bernie Madoff and his wealthy victims.

Now the scammers have invaded social media with the same objective. Phony Facebook pages pop up in the name of a well known author complete with links to purchase books. While that’s still rare, what happened to me is much more common. 

You probably never though of someone hacking into your social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter and assuming your identity. Perhaps it’s time you did because the number of incidents is clearly growing and it’s hard to say who will be next. Here are some simple steps you can take that will reduce your risk:

  • Change your password on a regular basis and make it hard to guess. Avoid obvious ones such as name or “password.” We should all know this by now, but many people don’t want to be bothered. Passwords that combine random letters and numbers are best.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date and run regular scans to detect malware and other malicious viruses. Hackers can gain access through e-mail addresses associated with the social media. Facebook has a list of free antivirus programs and other useful programs.
  • If you receive spam from a friend’s account don’t click on any links unless you’re sure of where they will take you.
  • Keep an eye on your social media. If you see unusual activity on someone’s Facebook or MySpace page report it.

You’re probably wondering if anyone actually fell for this scam. Fortunately not. When my graphic designer friend Lynae called to alert me to what was happening she observed, “Don’t worry. Most of your friends are artists, so they don’t have any money.”  That was reassuring I guess.

2 Responses to ““Help, I was mugged in London and need $900 to get home!””

  1. I’m disappointed that
    1 – You were not in London – Of course I would of preferred to hear you were in Italy. My favorite.
    2 – As your only true friend 🙂 I did not get the email for help!
    3 – That most of your artist friends are poor. Is there any hope for us?

    PS – If you ever need money you will have to call and talk to me. No emails.

    • southwrite said

      The upside of this scam was nobody turned over any money when someone posing as me asked for it. And, the downside was…nobody turned over money when someone posing as me asked for it.

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