Watch Out! Avoid The Sister Scam and These Other Facebook Gotchas!

The days of Nigerian email scam and unknown inheritance tricks are starting to fade into the distance as Facebook’s popularity continues to soar. Now, with the Christmas season upon us, it seems like some of them have become even more prevalent than before. So, how are you able to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake? Here is a quick rundown of the scams that are getting everyone and how to use their tricks to determine if another “too-good-to-be-true” opportunity arises in your newsfeed.

The Secret Sisters gifts

This is especially popular among twenty- and thirty-somethings: you buy a $10 Christmas gift and send it to one “secret sister.” Then, after a week or two, you’ll start receiving gifts in exchange, up to 36 in all. Sounds like a winner, right?

Except, it’s not.

This is nothing more than a traditional pyramid scheme dressed up with a bow and lip gloss. You send something of value to a person on top of the “secret sister” list, move the second person to the first position and then you send the instructions with the list to six other people. But, by the time that list has reached the 10th level of the pyramid you’d need enough women to make surpass New York City’s population to participate. Even at a lower level, the chances of enough people playing along make it nearly impossible to get at least one gift back .

But the biggest reason not to play along is that this is illegal. Both the United States and other individual states have laws against this type of scam, meaning you could either face a fine or end up in jail. Merry Christmas.

So, if you are offered a lot for a little, especially large returns on investments, plan on it being a bad deal. Even the stock market isn’t guaranteed a large return in a short amount of time.

The Facebook Lottery (or other Lottery, really) scam

Do you remember getting emails saying you’ve won an international lottery you never knew you entered? Well, now you can get fooled online from your Facebook friends!

A woman in Henderson, Texas, was duped when she received a message from a Facebook “friend.” The profile was assigned to Theresa Paddock and she contacted Lillian Gonzalez that she’d won the lottery, based on a story from¬†KLTV in Tyler, Texas. But, before she can collect her winnings, she needed to wire $150 to cover fees, including insurance. Gonzalez sent the money, but no money came back. Instead, a man contacted her saying that she needed to send more money.

Same thing in Indiana, when a woman sent $850 to collect a windfall. This time, though, it was hackers who took over a friend’s profile and convinced her that she was a winner, according to Fox 59 in Indianapolis.

Sadly, though, this means that both did not get anything but a small banker account. To avoid this problem remember a couple of quick tips:

  1. Lotteries require some form of opt-in to play. Either your name is automatically entered by an organization you belong to (such as a church raffle) or you buy a ticket (like Mega-Millions and Powerball). If you are notified about winning a lottery you never knew you entered, it likely does not exist.
  2. Never send money with the promise of receiving a prize or compensation in return, especially for fees or insurance. Prizes that are legitimately won may require a tax by the government, but that comes during tax season on your reporting forms and you pay it directly to the IRS or state taxing body, not the group providing prizes.
  3. Don’t wire money to anyone for any reason associated with prizes. Western Union should be for wiring money to friends or family to help them out in a jam, not to collect a prize.
  4. Don’t plan on winning the lottery, especially online. The chances of winning the Powerball is 1 in 175 million, based upon

Travel Scams

This is for more than airlines and Disney World. You see a Facebook page that says United Airlines and they’re giving away 50,000 free round-trip tickets to anywhere around the world. Just share the image and you’re entered. This is just fantastic, isn’t it?

Well it isn’t.

What is happening is that you are expanding their network to include your friends and family so they can send spam emails and collect vital data from you. This has really been a problem for families since the discounted rates for travel is always a blessing when you have children coming along. That’s evidenced when you see 75,000 hit with the latest from “Walt Disney World.”

So, how do you avoid falling prey to these scammers?

  1. Look at the name of the page you’ll gain insight. For example, the page name for the Florida-based Disney theme park is Walt Disney World, not Disney World. United Airlines just says United for their page, not United Airlines, which would be a scam page.
  2. Check the authentication of the page. Facebook has a verification process for celebrities and large corporations. If there is not a blue circle with a check mark beside the name, then the page is likely bunk and you’re seeing a scam..
  3. Check how many people have liked the page. Royal Caribbean Cruises, the scam page, has just under 45,000 likes. Royal Caribbean International, the official Facebook page, has over 3 million.
  4. Check out how to enter. If you just have to like and share, then the contest better be a small-scale promotion (local business or organization) or its a scam. If you have to enter in your information, such as name and contact details, then it’s probably not a scam and a legitimate contest. But even then you should be wary and check out the company’s website to make sure they are really having a contest.

About the Author

Justin Shimko
Justin Shimko is an award-winning former reporter for a number of news organizations in his past life. He started working for The Oklahoma Daily and briefly worked for The Daily Oklahoman and the Associated Press before joining Oklahomans for Jobs Now as a communications contributor. After his time in Oklahoma, Justin took his writing skills across the country, working for a variety of organizations before settling in the Chicagoland Area where he is now a consultant for a number of organizations and editor of American Daily News. He is the recipient of a number of SPJ awards for his writing on politics and government while working in Oklahoma, as well as recognition by the Columbia School of Journalism. Justin received his degree from the University of Oklahoma with additional study work completed at Georgetown University.

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