With many struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new scam has been making the rounds involving Facebook “friends” pushing faux grants related to the virus.
The Better Business Bureau issued an alert regarding a scam involving the social media giant that has become more prevalent in recent weeks.
According to the BBB, Facebook users have been receiving a Facebook Messenger chats or direct message that appears to come from a friend, relative, community member, or another person the user trusts.
The message describes a COVID-19 relief grant, with scammers claiming to have already applied and received thousands of dollars.
The scams are not limited to social media, as some have also received similar claims through phone calls and text messages.
Fraudsters have said that in order to receive any grant money, victims must pay upfront for “delivery” or “processing” fees. The scammers then take that money and are never heard from again.
At least one victim was contacted by someone posing as a church group leader who targeted someone who was out of work due to the pandemic and was robbed of $1,000 of his unemployment insurance.
“Scammers are either hacking social media accounts or creating separate lookalike profiles by stealing photos and personal information,” the BBB noted. “Either way, these con artists are banking that you will trust a message that appears to come from someone you know.”
To avoid being scammed, the BBB said that potential victims should:
- Be wary of your friends’ taste online: Your friend or family member may have impeccable judgment in real-life. But online, email messages, social posts, and direct messages could be from a hacked or impersonated account;
- Don't pay any money for a "free" government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a "free" grant, it isn't really free. A real government agency won't ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant you have already been awarded. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is Grants.gov. For information regarding Canadian grants, contact the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada;
- Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate;
- Report scam accounts and messages to Facebook and Instagram: Alert administrators to fake profiles, compromised accounts, and spam messages by reporting them on Facebook and Instagram.
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