With as many scam blogs as I’ve written or fraud cases I’ve been informed of over the years, you’d think I’d be pretty savvy in spotting or becoming a victim of one myself. And up until last week – I was. I’m sharing a Facebook contest scam with our readers in hopes that it will prevent someone else from becoming a scam victim too. I’d also like to showcase how “good” some of these fraudsters are, and that these scams often play on people’s emotions and allure them in with attractive advertising online when they’re vulnerable.
Keep reading to prevent this type of scam from happening to you, or if you also fell for the same type of scam – how to stop any fraud or ID theft from continuing.
Here’s what happened
After going through an emotional personal situation recently, I found myself being unable to sleep one night. As many of us might also do in that instance, I reached for my phone and decided to scroll through my Facebook feed for a bit until I got tired enough to hopefully fall back to sleep.
After a few minutes, I saw a series of ads that were targeted to my age range, gender, geographic area, the personal situation I had experienced, and one of the women in the ad even looked like me. She was holding up a Michael Kors handbag I had actually been looking at online a few weeks ago but hadn’t purchased. The ad content mentioned, “Enter to win a Michael Kors tote bag, all you have to do is answer 3 easy questions!”
I should have trusted my instincts that told me this is too good to be true, but against my better judgement (and lack of sleep), I proceeded anyway. Before I answered the questions, I did look through the comments on this contest ad that I was about to fill out, and they didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. I also went to the advertiser’s page and saw what looked to be legitimate Facebook users who had commented on the contest post, thanking the advertiser for their bags and with actual photos of the bags they had won and received in the mail.
One user profile commented when someone else asked if the contest was real, “Yes! It was even posted on the Michael Kors page story that they had extra inventory and would be providing retailers with discounted bags to make room for a new summer line.” I even went to that page, and when I (obviously) didn’t see it in their story, told myself it had probably just expired and would be posted again later.
After convincing myself this was legit, I answered the three simple questions. Sure enough, I was selected as a “winner” and would now get my chance to open one of the digital contest gift boxes and see if that box contained the purse prize. Naturally, it did. I was then brought to what appeared to be a secure website form that had a lock icon up top next to the web address.
The message at the top of this form said, “Congratulations, you’ve won! We’ll ship your Michael Kors tote bag within 1-2 business days, just pay $9.95 for shipping and handling.” That’s where I really went wrong, I should have known that any contest or sweepstakes that tells you that you’ve won – now pay us (even if it’s a small nominal or shipping fee), is always a scam.
Thankfully, my guard was somewhat up – and even though I entered my name and shipping address into the fraudulent contest website, I used a landline phone number instead of my cell phone, an old email address that I never use anymore but hadn’t gotten around to deleting yet, and a store Mastercard that had a zero balance instead of my main debit or credit card.
As soon as I entered my card number with its expiration and CVV code and hit submit, I knew I had made a big mistake. Luckily, I had fraud alerts setup on this store credit card, and I immediately received a possible fraud alert text from the card issuer. When I checked my email account, there was what appeared to be a legitimate email – with all the contact information I had entered, as well as an order number and a message that said the bag would be shipping within 1-2 business days, and I would receive another email once it shipped with tracking information.
Even with all that, I still had an uneasy feeling after getting the fraud alert text and I called the customer service number on the back of the card I had used. When I got a representative on the phone, he told me in addition to my $9.95 purchase in question – there were already 12 other pending charges to my account. As he named them all, not one of them was me. The scary part was around half of the pending charges on the card were legitimate purchases that I had made at various merchants in the past (probably so that if I looked at my account I would think I made those purchases).
My card was then shut down immediately, a new one was issued, and all pending purchases to that card were blocked. Had I used my debit card or my main credit card, this scam would have been a much bigger headache – but luckily fraud alerts had been setup for this card and I knew right away that something might not be right and called customer service.
What to do if you paid a scammer with a credit or debit card online
- As soon as possible, contact the bank or company that issued the card.
- Tell them a fraudulent charge was made.
- Have them reverse any transactions, close the card, and issue you a new card by mail.
- Continue to monitor your account to ensure no additional fraudulent charges take place.
- Make sure any automatic payments setup using your previous card are updated once you receive your new card.
- File an online case with the FTC and the FBI’s Internet Crime Center.
If you paid a scammer with another payment method or gave them access to a device, review this helpful guide on what to do. Also visit identitytheft.gov for more tips on what you can do when your personal information gets lost or stolen via a scam.
How to avoid a social media contest scam
If you ever feel uneasy about something – trust your instincts. Always do your research and search online with words like “scam” or “reviews” using the contest or advertiser name, or the prize. It’s also important that if you do have a social media account, that you keep your personal, demographic, and even company pages you follow – private and not public information. Many of these scammers are very sophisticated and will target certain social media users who follow various product pages and online shops, so that they can advertise their scam later on.
When I went back to the contest page afterward to report it to Facebook, I noticed a few comments from people saying, “this is a scam” and similar. However, a few minutes later, all those comments disappeared. When I looked at the Facebook profiles of the people who said they had won and posted photos of their bags, all of their profiles were all created within the last three weeks, they had no friends or activity on their pages, and only a public profile picture. I wish I had thought to check those out before I had unknowingly given my credit card information to fraudsters.
In the end, I luckily was able to catch this scam right away and took it as a very big learning lesson. I hope my experience helps others avoid these types of scams in the future and be more mindful of online contests and ads that target their victims through social media – I know I will!
If you ever see something suspicious online, you can always contact one of our financial experts to help you determine if the offer or website is legitimate. Should you see any fraudulent activity on one of your First Financial accounts, contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 or visit one of our branches.
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