Warning for social media users after woman nearly drawn into online scam

Lincolnshire Trading Standards is advising people to be careful on social media, as one Lincoln woman reveals how she was nearly drawn into a scam.

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Paula*, from Lincoln, was contacted by one of her friends on Facebook messenger asking her to take payment for something they’d sold online because they didn’t have PayPal.

Paula’s friend asked her to take the money from the buyer and then transfer the money into their bank account the next day.

Her friend even told her that she could keep some of the money as a thank you for the favour.

Paula said: “The money dropped into my PayPal account and then the mood of her messages altered.

“I just sensed something wasn’t right when she started demanding that I transferred the money straight away.”

Paula asked her friend for her mobile number so she could call her, but they did not reply.

Something didn’t seem right to Paula, so she tried to get confirmation from her friend.

She said: “I asked her to tell me something about me and she mentioned my son, daughter in law and granddaughter, but this still did not seem right so I didn’t transfer the money to the bank account.

“Then I received a message calling me a thief and that she was going to the police.”

PayPal contacted Paula to advise her that a fraudulent payment had been made into her account.

Paula refunded the money, changed her passwords and contacted PayPal, the police, and Trading Standards about the situation.

Paula said: “I have since found out that my dear friend’s account had been hacked and the info the person knew about my family would have been taken from a personal message between us.”

Emma Milligan, operational delivery manager at Lincolnshire Trading Standards, said: “When the alarm bells started ringing for Paula, she did the right thing in trying to confirm this was really her friend she was talking to.

“It seems as though criminals were trying to use Paula to transfer money from a compromised PayPal account into their bank account, making it difficult to trace.

“Social media is a fantastic way to keep in touch with our friends and family, and a lot of us are spending more time online as we stay at home. Unfortunately, this includes fraudsters too.

“By taking simple precautions and being aware of scams, we can keep ourselves safe online.”

Here are some tips to keep yourself safe on social media:

• Use a strong password that is different from all your other accounts, and set up two-factor authentication where services offer it.

• Be careful what you share – the more personal information you post, the more easily your accounts might be compromised.

• Be selective with friend requests. If you don’t know the person, don’t accept their request. It could be a fake account.

• If you’re unsure if a message has really come from your friend, call them or text them on a number you know is theirs to confirm it was them, especially if they’ve asked you to transfer money.

• Be cautious when you click on links. Look out for language or content that does not sound like something your friend would post.

- If you think you have been the victim of a social media or other online scam, you can report this to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and crime reporting centre. To do so, click here or call 0300 123 2040.

*Paula’s name has been changed, at her request, to protect her identity. Paula was contacted by the scammers in April 2020.