Unmasking the latest Facebook Messenger scams

April 25th · 10 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

Facebook Messenger: Launching pad for scammers

Perhaps you use Facebook to play Candy Crush or stalk your exes, but hackers are using it to scam people out of their hard-earned cash. The latest in Facebook scams is a real doozy… Get this - Cybercriminals are using Facebook Messenger to hijack accounts, manipulate people, steal their info and cash. Messenger has over 931 million users, making it a prime target for hackers - it’s basically like fishing with dynamite.

| Americans lost over 1.2 BILLION due to social media fraud

But don’t be alarmed as always, we’re here to help! In this article, we’ll dissect the ins and outs of the new Facebook Messenger scam and give you some tips you can’t afford NOT to take advantage of. Spoiler alert: having an online security software like Guardio is what can make the difference between finding yourself in a world of financial ruin or drinking martinis at the beach - you decide…. Grab your snorkel, and let’s dive in!

Gotten any weird messages lately? You may be at risk!

Protect yourself from Facebook Messenger scams & other online threats.

Friend or foe: Could you be chatting with a scammer on Facebook Messenger?

What, I didn’t win a free trip to the Bahamas? Really? And you’re not a Nigerian prince... Oh, dear...

Long gone are the easy-to-spot scams like the free trip giveaway or romance scams like the Nigerian prince that, for some reason, just can’t have a video call or come visit but can certainly steal your money. These days, scams are getting harder to spot and easier to fall for. When it comes to social media platforms like Facebook, scams take on a whole new dimension… for the worse.

We’ve all encountered fake Facebook accounts at some point. A peculiar friend request or a profile with only a couple of friends, no posts, and an air of suspicion. Sound familiar? But here's the kicker, fake accounts are just the tip of the iceberg. Brace yourself for what's next. Shockingly, it's not just impersonators with fake accounts out there; even seemingly genuine accounts like yours and your friends might fall into the clutches of cybercriminals... And the plot thickens.

Taking over a Facebook account

We’ve written about Facebook account hijacking before, but as a refresher, it’s basically when hackers gain unauthorized access or seize control over someone's Facebook account. They use a number of methods to achieve this, like buying login credentials from the dark web, conducting phishing attacks, deploying malware, or exploiting weak passwords.

Once these hackers gain control of someone's Facebook account, they can potentially use it as a launching pad to access other social media accounts, especially if the person uses the same passwords across different platforms. And let’s be honest, most people use the same credentials for multiple sites, which can inadvertently expose them to greater security risks.

What's even more alarming is that once hijackers have control over your Facebook account, they can use it to engage in phishing schemes and solicit money from your family, friends, and followers.

How Facebook Messenger scams work

Scammers often assume fake identities, either by creating look-alike Facebook profiles or by taking control of legitimate accounts (hijacking), enabling them to send phishing scam messages to the friends of their victims.

One of the reasons scammers like Facebook Messenger is its wide-reaching network. Many individuals have Facebook friends they may not have interacted with for a long time or may not even know that well, making them easy targets. So a Facebook account that has been hacked could be used as an opportunity to establish trust by initiating contact and gradually building rapport. The scammers will then use social engineering tactics to phish, scam, manipulate, and deceive their targets. It’s ugly, believe me.

But, perhaps the most notable reason for the popularity of social media scams, including those on Facebook Messenger, is their effectiveness. In 2022 alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that scams originating from social media platforms led to American citizens losing over $1.2 billion.

How to get scammed on Facebook Messenger in 4 steps

Step 1 - Impersonation Scammers either hijack an existing Facebook account or create a fale one that mimics the profile picture and information of one of your Facebook friends.

Step 2 - Initial contact Out of the blue, you receive a message from this supposed friend, catching your attention due to your curiosity about reconnecting.

Step 3 - Intriguing message The message is designed to be urgent, alarming, or intriguing to capture your attention. Scammers often use attention-grabbing phrases like "Is this you?" followed by a link. Other common tactics include starting with questions like "Guess who died?" Scammers will employ any message they believe will prompt a swift response.

Step 4 - Deceptive request Subsequently, the scammer makes a request for money, personal information or sends a harmful link. Once you engage with the message, scammers swiftly transition to soliciting sensitive data, such as security codes, or attempting to persuade you to send them money or click on dangerous links. Hook, line, and sinker.

Is your Facebook account really safe?

Protect yourself from Facebook Messenger scams & other online threats.

Facebook Messanger Scams to look out for

While Messenger scams come in different shapes and forms, they are all designed by cybercriminals to deceive you, steal your cash, and harvest your personal information. Here are some of the top Messenger scams to look out for:

Romance scams In the realm of cybercrime, romance scammers are especially deceiving, using other people’s emotions and search for love as their main weapon. They don the guise of attractive strangers, weaving tales of hardship and longing in an attempt to captivate your heart. If only they used their creativity and storytelling for good, we would have some great Netflix romcoms to binge. But sadly, they don’t.

These cunning culprits often take a unique approach by befriending several of your mutual friends before making their move. By doing so, they hope to appear as less of a stranger and more of a trusted figure within your social circle. Their profiles often feature stolen internet photos, with some even posing as military personnel or doctors to invoke trust, admiration, and authority. The common thread among them is their purported distance; they claim to be far away and unable to meet you, setting the stage for a request that inevitably follows – for you to send them money.

Lottery scams Who doesn't dream of winning a lottery or contest and scoring some "free money"? Lottery scammers exploit this aspiration by impersonating friends or organizations with exciting news of your supposed windfall. The catch? You'll either have to pay a fee or provide personal information, like your social security number, to claim your prize. Here's the kicker: you never even entered the contest to begin with...

Inheritance scams Similar to lottery scams, inheritance scammers prey on your desire for unexpected riches. They pose as lawyers or representatives of someone who has passed away, claiming that you are the chosen heir to a substantial estate. However, there's always a hurdle to overcome – they'll ask for money or personal information before the inheritance can be yours.

Loan scams In the world of "free money" scams, loan scammers offer enticing deals of low-interest loans with no upfront payment – except for a so-called "refundable" application fee. These scammers often use Messenger to contact potential victims and may even post on Pages and in Groups to appear legitimate. But let's be clear: legitimate lenders do not operate via Facebook Messenger or request upfront fees for loan applications.

Grant scams The promise of a government grant lures many into the clutches of grant scammers. Imposters will contact you on Messenger, touting the opportunity to secure "free money" through a government grant. They may even claim to have received such a grant themselves. It's crucial to remember that legitimate government grants require an application, and there are no fees involved. Be cautious of these enticing but scammy offers.

Donation scams Imagine receiving a message from a "famous person" or a representative of a charity asking for a donation. There’s a special place in hell for donation scammers, as they use people’s desire to help others to cheat them out of money. Always exercise caution when approached with such requests.

"Hey, is this you?" scams This phishing scam plays on people’s fears and vulnerabilities. Scammers hack into your friend's Messenger account and send you a video, implying that it features embarrassing content involving you. This ploy is designed to coerce you into divulging personal information or potentially infecting your computer with a virus. Remember to ignore and delete such messages to safeguard your security.

What do I do if I fall for a Facebook Messenger scam?

If you fall victim to a Facebook Messenger scam, it's essential to act quickly in order to minimize the potential damage and regain control of your account. Here’s what you should do:

Cease communication: Immediately stop all communication with the scammer. Do not reply to their messages or provide any personal information.

Report the scam: Use the "Report" feature on Facebook Messenger to alert Facebook to the scam. This helps the platform identify and take action against malicious accounts.

Secure your account: Change your Facebook password immediately. Ensure that the new password is strong, consisting of a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using easily guessable information like your birthdate or common words.

Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA): Activate MFA for your Facebook account if you haven't already. This extra layer of security requires you to provide a second form of verification (e.g., a one-time code sent to your phone) in addition to your password when logging in.

Check for unauthorized activity: Review your account for any unauthorized changes. Ensure that your email address, phone number, and recovery options have not been altered by the scammer.

Scan for malware: Run a thorough anti-malware scan on your device to check for any potential infections. That’s where Guardio comes in handy. Guardio blocks malicious sites and downloads, so you never have to worry about clicking a dangerous link or being navigated to a sketchy website. But the best part is that Guardio offers 24/7 real-time protection and a free computer scan that will give you a detailed report on which threats you were exposed to. Don’t let the bad guys win, try Guardio’s free 7-day trial; you’ve literally got nothing to lose. Oh, except for all those annoying pop-up ads, and phishing emails, Guardio will block. 🙂

Warn your contacts: If someone is trying to scam you via Facebook Messenger, be sure that you’re probably not the only one that they’re trying to bamboozle. If the person who’s contacted you is a real friend, try and contact them directly via voice call. Their Facebook account may have been hijacked and, in essence, has become the launching pad for these scammers. Also, notify your friends and contacts about the scam, especially if the scammer has impersonated you or contacted them using your account.

Monitor financial accounts: If you shared financial information or suspect the scammer has access to your accounts, monitor your bank account and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions. It’s also always a good idea to contact your financial institution and report any suspicious activity.

Change passwords on other accounts: If you reused the same password on other online accounts, change those passwords immediately. Scammers may attempt to access other accounts using stolen login information.

The bottom line

Cybercriminals use Facebook Messenger as one of their favorite arenas for deceit and financial exploitation. They employ various tactics within the app to hijack accounts, manipulate unsuspecting people, steal personal information, and extract hard-earned money. With a staggering user base exceeding 931 million, Facebook Messenger provides an extensive hunting ground for online criminals.

However, not all is lost. One crucial thing that can be done to proactively protect your Messenger interactions is installing reliable online security software like Guardio. Guardio, actively scans and blocks malicious sites and downloads, preventing you from inadvertently clicking on dangerous links or navigating to risky websites.

Guardio's protection goes beyond this; it offers real-time security that continuously monitors for threats. You can also try Guardio for free for a 7-day trial to experience its comprehensive security features firsthand. In essence, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So, in this ever-evolving digital landscape filled with Facebook Messenger scams, consider Guardio as your trusted ally. Having your safety top of mind will give you peace of mind while navigating the virtual world. Stay safe online!

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Check out how Guardio Labs uncovered the how scammers are using Facebook Messenger to scam business accounts!

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