Facebook Western Union Scams – When $500 are loose change for some
I spent the weekend with Thomas Crampton and his family in Ireland, who on Friday reported the now famous Rich Strombach’s FB Scam. The piece of news ignited an interesting debate at dinner on people’s level of gullibility and attitude towards parting with their money (and because we know some of the people involved, which shocked me even more!).
Several points can be drawn:
1. FB took an awful lot time to react, even when the person who raised the alert was contacting the Zuckerbergs directly.
2. The scam did not happen to a “nobody party kid”. It happened to the Davos Elite and their chums.
3. Because of no.2, because these people use FB alongside the “commoners”, the scammers’ plan targeted people who can spare $500 without much hesitation. When the amount is within one’s brackets of affordability, one does not check facts too precisely, and this quick “call for help” on the FB chat was dispatched as fast as you and I ask each other for change at the pub to buy [a] cigarettes [b] get a taxi back home [c] pay each other’s drinks if I forgot my wallet.
The problem here was not Facebook. The problem here is widespread and it affects society in other scam situations: people do not stop to check details. A good example is a couple of weekends ago when two 8 year old kids walked along my local green (park) asking us to donate spare change for the Cancer Foundation. On a sunny Sunday and lounging on a picnic blanket most people felt compelled to pitch in and throw in their collection cup whatever change they had. I didn’t. Not when [a] two underaged kids walk about collecting in football shirts (real collectors are over 18 and wear I.D. hanging from their necks) [b] the collecting cup in question was a big sized CafeNero carton cup (wow, the Cancer Society in partnership with the Caffeine Society? No freaking-way).
Common sense is very relaxed these days, not just in the digital society of FB. I do not want to talk here about myID and other technologies that one can deploy to protect one’s identity online. The best technology is your own sense of self-protection. Even heavily gated communities and bolted doors are futile if you open the door when the bell rings. The point here is you and how you need to deal with fraud.
The scary issue regarding FB is [a] how secure your password is [b] how in the future the people (not FB) are going to have to smarten up and guard themselves from “asking for money scams that come to them via chat”. Some people asked the scammers questions that put them on the spot and stopped the FB chat exchange, for example “when did we last saw each other?” – this apparently killed the chat mojo almost immediately. My question here is why didn’t these people call Rich immediately? (only one of them did).
The dangerous side of this story is the impersonation. You think you are chatting to your friend, not a stranger. You therefore don’t question he is in Wales rather than St Tropez – which seems to be the place to be to raise money this summer because everybody is there, VCs and entrepreneurs (rich ones obviously). In addition, because your friend is one of the it-guys and he may have decided to make Wales the next “off the beaten track point of destination for “it” entrepreneurs” just like the Pampas, Argentina became in the late 1990s the place for the Hollywood elite to buy real estate, or remote rural spots like Maine become the location for cool entrepreneurs conferences – popTech.
So let’s make a deal. Next time someone on any social media asks you for money, pick up the bloody mobile and check where your mate is. Maybe at CafeNero, doing the Cancer Society rounds.