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I Got Scammed on Facebook—Here’s What I Learned

I thought I knew better than to fall for a Facebook scam—until I actually did.

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Facebook security issuesPhoto: TY Lim/Shutterstock

The scam with the most victims

It was only the summer of 2018, but the tragedy of the century was already nigh: all my friends had tickets to a blacklight rave on Friday, and I, the protagonist, didn’t. Through some eleventh-hour negotiating, I was finally able to get a shift covered day-of and was now free to dance like nobody was watching—if I could score a ticket in the next few precious hours. That desperation clouded my judgment, lowered my guard, and cost me 30 smackeroonies. I did not go on to dance under the flashing blacklight of a Brooklyn warehouse party that night—only the unforgiving, hypothetical forensic blacklight of a cybercrime scene.

The Better Business Bureau ranks online purchases as the most common scam and the one with the most victims, with 10,240 reports in 2018. Event ticket scams were only responsible for 2.6 per cent of that figure but had the highest success rate: 88.8 per cent. Scamees lost $102, on average. “It’s gotten horrendously worse over the past year,” Noel Peters, a concert promoter and founder of Inertia Entertainment, told Now Toronto magazine. “My recent show, I didn’t look at the page for 24 hours and woke up to 60 scam posts.” Facebook groups like theXchange seek to combat the practice, employing eight moderators to vet new applicants before adding them. This way, members can post their request to buy or sell tickets to a group of verified, fellow concert-frequenters who might actually be able to help them.

I think when most people visualize Facebook-scamees, they picture older, computer-illiterate (if not well-meaning) Baby Boomers—not those who grew up with Facebook. Admittedly, I hadn’t been all that active on Facebook the past few years. Despite my relative inactivity, I’m very Internet-savvy and grew up in the MTV Catfish generation, so I was well aware of the power of a reverse Google Images search and the red flags to look out for—until I wasn’t.

The event was sold out, and all venerable ticket resellers were under the impression that I had a plump little burlap sack inscribed with a dollar sign laying around like I’m some kind of train robber. I didn’t and I’m not! But, what were once General Admission tickets priced at a reasonable $25-$35 were now octuple that price. I turned to the venue’s Facebook event, where the Discussion tab was rife with dozens of event-goers looking to buy or sell tickets. Unlike Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, or StubHub, one poster wasn’t selling them at a ridiculous up-charge, and only wanted to make back the money he spent, so I bit. That was probably the most frustrating thing, at the end of it all. The scammer didn’t even find me; I went out of my way to find him.

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facebook scamPhoto: Courtesy Caroline Fanning/via Facebook

Consider the likelihood of the post

The scammer posted that something came up and he’d no longer be able to attend—a likely story, I now know. A few sentences can speak volumes, so really consider the likelihood of the post before going any further. Did the post include the person’s phone number? It’s highly unlikely that a real person would post their phone number to a public group, as it would expose them to droves of spam calls, and I don’t advise you ever do it for the same reason. Is the poster selling four tickets because their family can’t make it? To a heavy metal show? Even if the verbiage just feels a bit off for reasons you can’t quite articulate, trust your intuition.

Change your settings immediately if you use any of these bad passwords.

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Hands on keyboardPhoto: Shutterstock

Does the profile seem like a real person’s profile?

Investigate the poster’s profile a bit. In my case, the scammer’s profile photo was, literally, a police badge. Perfect! I remember thinking as I took an exploratory poke around. It’d be pointless to call the cops on this person—they’d probably answer the phone! Couldn’t possibly be a scammer. At the time, this only encouraged me to proceed, but in retrospect, how incredibly suspect! I’d bit down hard and thought exactly what he’d wanted me to think.

Has the poster been a Facebook user for all of two hours? Did they change their name or profile photo immediately prior to posting? Is this the only time they’ve posted? Do they only have a few friends or none at all? Are they selling tickets to an event in Toronto, but live in Tucson? Jared Paul, founder of theXchange, offers this pro-tip: “We check someone’s URL. Often times a scammer’s real name is in the URL and their fake name is on the profile,” Paul tells Reader’s Digest. Even if their profile name has been changed in the display, the URL reveals all.

Learn how to tell if your technology is spying on you.

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facebook scamPhoto: Courtesy Caroline Fanning/via Facebook

How do they want you to pay?

We arrive at the bottom line. PayPal Goods and Services is the safest way to send money since it offers buyer protection for a small fee (charged to the seller, not the buyer). If you don’t receive the item, PayPal will reimburse you if the transaction is reported in time. According to Paul, most scammers will turn down PayPal Goods and Services, and suggest PayPal Family and Friends, Apple Pay or Venmo.

While going back and forth with my eventual scammer, he declined to send me the ticket first. Not all that unreasonable—I assumed he didn’t want someone to take his ticket and run, either. However, he insisted I send him a $30 Amazon gift card without any proof of purchase in return. I sent a partial screenshot of the gift card as a show of good faith, offering to send the rest of the 12-digit claim code after I got the ticket. He refused. Reader, he literally said, “I deal with trust,” as if it were legal tender. And it worked! That’s a man with moral fibre and an honor code, I thought. What I should have been thinking was, that’s a man with a dummy email linked to his Amazon account.

Desperate for a ticket and frenzied by the thought of getting so close, the promise of an impending email with the ticket attached was good enough for me. Right before sending the full claim code, I remember thinking, Hm…what am I doing right now that I will deeply regret in the future? The response I came up with at the time was not a gosh darn tootin’ thing, but when I eventually rejoined reality, I would realize the answer was every single thing I was doing during this ticketing transaction.

Off the claim code went, and with it, my naivety, as well as my confidence in both the Internet and my fellow man. The scammer told me to check my email in ten minutes, used that time to fill up his Amazon cart before I could cancel the gift card, then deleted his Facebook profile before I was any the wiser.

Now that I am the wiser, I have ascended into full vigilantism, leaving warnings on posts that are clear scams, so my fellow concertgoers don’t fall prey to the same trap I once did. I couldn’t find another ticket that night and thus had to miss the rave, which, honestly, is probably the only reason for my vindictiveness. Scam me out of $30? Whatever. Scam me out of fun? My wrath will rain down like AA batteries.

Next, educate yourself further on these other common online scams.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest