There is nothing like a friend’s advice, but what if that advice is really coming from someone pretending to be one of your friends?
A Greenville, South Carolina, woman lost tens of thousands of dollars all because she thought some old friends were helping her apply for a government grant.
It turns out that scammers were impersonating them.
Fake friend, real scam
When you’ve been through a recent battle with cancer like Theresa Kraft of Greenville, it’s hard not to think about your legacy.
“It was just a contribution that I could leave behind me that would help people, and I thought this is a good way to use this money,” said Kraft.
At least that’s what she thought when not one, but two friends messaged her on Facebook to recommend she apply for a $1 million government grant, one they said they had just received.
“I’ve written grants before, I know what you have to do to get a grant, and you know, just ticking people off and passing the money is not the way to get it done,” she said.
And yet, the scammers got a total of $33,000 of her money in what they called fees. Nexstar’s WSPA asked her what made her do it.
“It was the second time I had heard about this; it was the second endorsement I got from people that I had no reason not to trust.”
Take Mike for instance. We won’t use his last name, since he’s a real high school friend of Kraft’s. The guy who actually was messaging her wasn’t Mike at all, but a scammer who had hacked into his page.
“He texted, he said, ‘You know this is real, I could never lead you to a bad program. I swear this is real and legitimate,'” explained Kraft.
Scammers “becoming … more elaborate and sophisticated”
Lieutenant Ryan Flood with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said it’s all too easy for scammers to impersonate not just government agencies but friends.
“What the scammers are doing is becoming much more elaborate and sophisticated with how they try to trick people,” said Flood. “They are making themselves sound very legitimate, like you mentioned, where they are playing the role of a friend. And so much information is out there on social media that they can use that against people and make themselves sound legitimate.”
“The people that are putting this stuff out there are devious enough to take you for everything you’ve got. And they don’t care,” said Kraft.
What Kraft didn’t know at the time was that you never have to pay to get a real government grant.
What’s worse, the scammers requested all of the $33,000 in gift cards.
They said it was to avoid tax, but the reality is that the $500 in funds on each of the 66 cards became virtually untraceable the moment Kraft gave them the numbers.
“You look back on it and say, ‘How did you not know? How did you not get this?'” she said.
The answers, she explained, was that “people that had done good things in my life, that had looked out for me and protected me were recommending this to me. And they were guaranteeing this with their personal experience.”
It wasn’t until Kraft called one of those two friends that she found out they had never messaged her about a grant.
Spotting the signs of a scam
Now, Kraft’s legacy may not be a large endowment, but perhaps her courage to speak up has more value, knowing those who heed her warning don’t have to suffer.
“I may not die wealthy but I’m going to be OK,” said Kraft.
The key to avoiding this type of scam is to spot the signs that either your friends or your own social media account has been hacked.
If you get a message from a friend telling you to use their new page because their other one is hacked, always verify that by calling them directly since that could be their deceptive way to get you to use their bogus account.
As for Kraft, she filed a report with the FBI and she has applied to a Department of Justice program that may be able to help victims of gift card scams.