When a Facebook friend isn’t who they say

??????????????????Lots of famous people have pages on Facebook. Rock stars. Actors. And even politicians.

But are the pages you’re following the real thing?

And when you receive a message from friends on Facebook, is it real?

Maybe not.

Tammy Wesson, a reader from Mississippi, contacted us about a scam that tried to take advantage of her 70-year-old mom, Alice Williams.

Williams didn’t fall for it, but we thought it would serve as a good reminder to New Jerseyans.

It started when Williams, also of Mississippi, received a “friend request” from someone she knew.

After Williams accepted, the friend sent her a Facebook message with some fantastic news.

There was free money available through a “federal grant” and it was being publicized by Colorado Attorney General Christine Coffman. The friend claimed to have gotten $300,000 from the grants, and offered a link to the attorney general’s Facebook page, where Williams could get more information.

The offer was simple. After you apply for the grant via email — an email address in the name of the Colorado AG — you’re “approved.”

That’s when you learn you have to pay a fee of $1,000 for every $100,000 you’d get in grant money.

“I questioned them about how it was received, was it taxed and so forth,” Williams said. “They used my friend to assure me it was real — almost like — how dare I question.”

fbYes, it’s a scam.

It seems the friend who sent this message didn’t really, but the friend’s Facebook account was hacked and someone was sending messages and impersonating the friend.

Williams also learned her friend’s account was used to make the phony offer to several people.

NEW DELIVERY FOR OLD SCAM

Government grant scams are nothing new, but this is the first one we’ve heard of that supposedly came from a named government official over Facebook.

We took a closer look.
When you search Facebook for Christine Coffman’s name, several people and pages come up.

The first one, with a subhead that read “Politician,” seemed to be legit.

But there was a second profile for the AG, and it used many of the same photos on Coffman’s real page. This second profile had a subhead that said “Federal Government Grants.”

And when you go to the “About” section, “Federal Government Grants” was listed as Coffman’s employer, and it had a link to its Facebook page.

When you click on “Federal Government Grants,” you go to a Facebook page that has a Washington D.C. address, but it doesn’t have much substance. It offers a link to its web page, federalgovermentgrants.org, but the page was not longer available.

That page describes its mission.

“A financial aid given by the federal, state or local government to an eligible grantee in all American, Pacific, Europe and some Africa Countries,” it said.

We informed Colorado’s attorney general’s office.

“This happens from time to time,” said spokesman Roger Hudson. “It’s happened in the past.”

Hudson said he would alert its investigators and take further steps if needed.

“It’s a good reminder to citizens to be very careful how they navigate the World Wide Web. There are scammers,” Hudson said. “All consumers should make sure their image is not being used fraudulently.”

Good advice. We’ll have more on how you can combat Facebook impersonations in a moment.

Shortly after we reported this to Colorado, the phony version of Coffman’s Facebook page was taken down, but the “Federal Government Grants” page remained up at last check.

This certainly isn’t the first time someone has impersonated the identity of a government official.

We wrote about an issue here in New Jersey last year, when scammers mailed fake arrest warrants to residents.

The letter, sporting a logo from the United States District Court, said the recipient was charged with criminal violations including “collateral check fraud” and “theft by deception.” The charges could result in “a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $24,000.”

Of course, you could get out of it by arranging to pay an “outstanding balance.”

A total fake.

In a similar scheme, con artists made phone calls claiming to represent Attorney General John Hoffman, saying residents had to pay an outstanding debt.

In 2012, another faker claimed to be from the attorney general’s office, telling residents they could get a cut of a legal settlement. The letters were stamped with the official seal of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety and signed by Attorney General Edward Thomson — who wasn’t a real person. The scammer tried to get people to part with their Social Security and bank account numbers.

We reached out to New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman’s office and to the Division of Consumer Affairs to see if they had knowledge of any similar scams here, but they didn’t respond in time for publication.

If you think someone is impersonating you on Facebook, report it.

First, if you have access to the imposter’s page, click on the cover photo and select “Report.” Just follow the instructions from there.

If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can still report it.

And if you ever receive a social media message from a friend asking for money — whether it’s for a not-so-free grant program, a “I’m stuck in Peru and I was robbed of my cash and passport,” or a report that your loved one has been kidnapped and you need to pay ransom, or the loved one needs money to pay an accident bill — or any other solicitation that involves money, assume it’s a fake.

Contact your friend or loved one over the phone using a number you have in your personal files, and make sure they’re okay. They probably are, and you’ve just avoided becoming a fraud victim.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.