Scammers are using Facebook Messenger and other apps in an attempt to convince Americans that they accidentally gave money to terrorist groups like ISIS, according to a new warning from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.
The scammers initially make contact with someone through a messaging service like Facebook Messenger or even Words With Friends, and it all seems harmless at first. Sometimes the scammers even fake a romantic interest in their victims, but soon enough, the scammer makes up a story of hardship and they request a small amount of money.
After the victim sends the money, the scammers pose as law enforcement and call the victim the following day in an effort to convince them that they donated to a terrorist organization like ISIS or Al Qaeda, according to DHS. The scammers then tell the victim that they’re entitled to a lawyer and put them in contact with another scammer who requests $1,000 as a “retainer.”
The fraud scheme sometimes succeeds, DHS says, because it involves multiple steps that lend it credibility—the scammers take time to establish a relationship before setting the trap, and the victims truly don’t know where they ultimately sent the money. As the old saying goes, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Or, in this case, nobody knows you’re not ISIS.
One aspect of this particular grift that makes it tough to detect is that the scammers will spoof the numbers of real government and police agencies. Victims eventually pay the scammers because they’re presumably embarrassed about the romantic aspect of the scam and they’re scared about what might happen to them if they’re charged with lending material support to terrorists. The U.S. government, as you can imagine, doesn’t like when people send money to terrorist groups.
“Legitimate law enforcement callers will never ask you to pay fines over the phone or request money from you,” the Department of Homeland Security OIG said in a press release. “If there is a question about the validity of a call, we encourage the public to call the relevant field office number of the government agency and ask to be put in touch with the individual who called you.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment about the scam and how prevalent it might be on their platform. We can only assume they were too busy setting up another “war room” somewhere.
Sadly, this kind of fraud isn’t entirely new. Scammers are constantly working social media sites and dating platforms to extract money from unsuspecting people. And apps like Tinder have historically had a huge problem with people posing as legitimately interested in a victim, only to eventually ask for more and more money—often in the form or iTunes gift cards.
Anyone who believes they may have been a target of this or any other scam that refers to DHS can contact the DHS OIG Hotline at 1-800-323-8603 or file a complaint online at the DHS OIG website.
If someone calls you and insists that you donated to ISIS, don’t give them any money for attorney’s fees. Unless, of course, you actually donated to ISIS. Then you might want to find a good attorney.