Many of the latest scams that have been proliferating this year are twists on older, time-tested ruses. (Hey, if it works it works, right?) And with AI making scammers’ jobs even easier, some of these hoaxes can be very difficult to suss out. Here are a few of the more common scams that are going around, and how you can avoid falling victim to them. 

The Facebook “look who died” Phishing Scam

If your feed looks anything like mine, you’ve probably come across this one without even realizing it. The scam consists of a post that contains some variation of “I can’t believe he’s gone. I’ll miss him so much” and a link to what looks like a news article or obituary. (Along the same lines, a similar scam uses a Facebook message that says, “Look, it’s you in the video” along with a link.) But when you click on the link, it asks you to enter your username and password in what appears to be a Facebook login page. Except, uh oh — it’s not. Once you enter your information, the data is sent directly to the scammer, who takes over your account and locks you out by changing the password. Then, they use your account to send the same fraudulent post to everyone on your friends list. 

This scam is clever in so many ways. Firstly, it appeals to our most basic human nature. The fraudulent post doesn’t mention any names (that would take too much work on the scammer’s part), so you’ll be intrigued by the mystery of who it was that died suddenly. Or you’ll want to know the details of this mystery person’s death. Once you’re hooked, it doesn’t always ring alarm bells when you’re asked to reenter login credentials, with so many websites being as interconnected as they are. 

Unfortunately, scammers can grab a ton of personal data from your Facebook account, including email addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and private messages, as well as a plethora of new potential victims from your friends list. If you’ve ever shopped through Facebook, the site could also be storing your financial information. The stolen data can then be used to break into non-Facebook accounts, or your personal information can be sold on the dark web. (The dark web refers to parts of the internet that are only accessible via certain software, which allows users to operate anonymously or untraceably.) Sometimes the link will also install malware onto your device as well. 

The Phantom Hacker

Late last year the FBI issued a warning about a scam they dubbed “The Phantom Hacker.” Essentially, scammers fake official credentials to try to convince their victims (typically older adults, because they have proven to be more susceptible to these kinds of hoaxes) that foreign hackers have infiltrated their financial accounts. The scammers then instruct the victim to immediately move their money to an alleged U.S. Government account to “protect their assets.” However, as you may have already guessed, there is no foreign hacker, and the “government account” belongs to the scammers. According to the FBI warning, some victims have lost their entire life savings this way.

This scam has three stages: 

  1. The tech support impostor poses as someone in tech support or a customer service representative from a legitimate technology company. They initiate contact with the victim through a phone call, text, email or pop-up window on the computer that instructs the victim to call a number for “assistance.” Once the victim complies, a scammer directs the victim to download a software program that grants them remote access to the victim’s computer. The tech support imposter then pretends to run a virus scan and falsely claims that the victim’s computer has been (or is at risk of) being hacked. Then, the scammer requests that the victim open their financial accounts to determine whether there have been any unauthorized charges. This allows the scammer to see all of that information, and to find out which financial account is most lucrative for targeting. This stage concludes with the scammer telling the victim that a representative from that financial institution’s fraud department will reach out with further instructions.
  2. The financial institution imposter contacts the victim and confirms what the tech support imposter had led the victim to believe. They then assist the victim with moving their money to a “safe” third-party account, purportedly with the Federal Reserve or another U.S. Government agency. The victim is instructed to transfer money via a wire transfer, cash or wire conversion to cryptocurrency, sometimes in multiple transactions, and often directly to overseas recipients.
  3. Finally, the scammer will pretend to be a government agency representative that the victim sent their money to, and send them a letter on what appears to be official letterhead to make it all seem legit. 

Fake Emergency Scams

The “fake emergency” plea for money has been around forever, but experts are warning that the Paris Olympic games (or any other big events) offer a ripe breeding ground for illicit money grabs. Essentially, a scammer hacks your email or social media accounts and sends a message to your contacts that says something like, “Hey guys, I’m over in Paris and my wallet got stolen! Can anyone please help out by sending me a Venmo or Paypal deposit?” 

This may seem pretty transparent, but this scheme has been successful in the past. Many people are eager to help a friend in need and might not check the details too carefully. 

How to Protect Yourself

These days, it’s better to treat anything and everything that requires you to input personal information with a high degree of caution. For example, if you get a request from your friend who needs money in Paris, call or text them first to see if they really sent that message. Here are some other ways you can avoid falling pretty to these scams:

  • Don’t click on any link that looks unusual or suspicious, even if it comes from someone you know.
  • If you realize you’ve clicked on something fishy, change your password immediately to avoid being locked out of the account by someone else, and log out of any devices or locations you don’t recognize.
  • Report the link to the platform you found it on, so they can shut it down.
  • If you get any kind of contact that requires your immediate action, treat it with suspicion. Scammers often rely on a sense of urgency to get you to act without thinking things through.
  • For more ways to protect yourself, check this article out.

Top image by Kaspars Grinvalds, via Canva.com.


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