Scams, lies and videotape
Scams are everywhere on social media and the worst thing is, if we don’t apply a bit of critical thinking, we’re helping the scammers out.
This week we were contacted by an ex-professional footballer in a panic. He had engaged with an Instagram account which was promising huge returns on Bitcoin investment. What was really remarkable is that, in a few steps, he’d effectively given the scammer access to his Instagram account and they also had an edited video of him telling his followers that this was absolutely “not a scam”. Whatever he had done, whatever he had filmed himself saying, he was hugely embarrassed, hugely scared and also hugely out of pocket, after the scammers had conned him into giving access to financial accounts too.
Scammers are confidence tricksters. Their challenge therefore is to win people’s confidence by looking convincing. A quick analysis of the scammer’s Instagram account gives an interesting insight and also some lessons learned on avoiding falling foul ourselves …
Make it a believable story
The scammers used the images of a charming looking young woman and, as you can see in the image below, a real person who won an award called the Mastery Academy Chairman 10.
It helps the scammer’s agenda that the real Azsiana James is apparently an entrepreneur specialising in investments and the award she won relates to investments. She’s been using social media herself for many years and so she’s created a lot of content that the scammer has stolen and used to make the account look legit. But the real Azsiana is clear in her bio this is her “Only Page” …
Offer some success stories
The scam account has a whole series of photographs which purport to show people who have achieved great financial success by just giving their money to the scammer, err, taking advantage of this great investment opportunity. Like this young woman, who seems to have bought herself a brand new Mercedes with the money she’s made from investments …
I’m sure Olympic 4x100m gold medallist Briana Williams will be pretty miffed to hear that her financial success has been put down to giving her money to a scammer rather than years of hardwork and athletic achievement.
That brings in one of our tips on considering whether an online approach is a scam or not: the Google reverse image search. Go to Google, select Images, copy and paste in an image you want to search and Google will search the internet for the same or similar images.
Make the success stories as convincing as possible
The scam account is full of images of people telling us how much money they’ve made. Of course, they’re not real (at least they haven’t made any money by giving their hard earned cash to this scammer) and some of the images are quite comical. Like this one, of a young couple announcing either a wedding or pregnancy, but the words are replaced with something altogether different …
Some are not as convincing. Maybe this one was done early on during the scammer’s photoshop qualification …
But what is very convincing are the videos that appear. The scammer has uploaded a number of videos of what appear to be members of the public stating that they have invested with the scammer and that it is not a scam.
Quite how the scammer obtained these videos, whether by deepfake, by editing other videos, or simply by tricking the individuals to record them, is not clear. Some of the videos are heartbreaking when you know the truth (that this is all a scam). In one a young mother and her daughter (aged around 12) are on camera. The mother is crying as she says: “thank you so much, this is my daughter, she was just saying ‘mommy, I hope this is real’”. None of the people that appear in the videos appear particularly wealthy, or like sophisticated investors, but the key for the scammers is that people know people and those people trust those people. For the footballer that we helped the scammer had taken control of his Instagram account, uploaded his video, and then proceed to DM it to all of his followers.
The trust those followers have is the key and that is why scammers want to get into accounts so much. We managed to recover the account within just over an hour. We could then post a Story informing his followers of the hacking incident. We then set about DMing all of the people that the scammer had DMed. Fortunately it looks like we got to his followers before anyone engaged with the scammer or, worse still, invested. We’ve also reported the scammer’s account to Instagram so that they can continue to police their community.
Strength in numbers
One thing that is quite remarkable is how online scammers work as wholesale operations. It's a numbers game. They spam social media users in their thousands hoping to get a bite. Scammers effectively work in call centres in relatively poor countries doing a "job" of trying to rip people off. For this particular scam it appears that the fake figurehead (using the name Azsiana James) has been used prolifically, time and time again, before we reported the scam to Instagram we counted no less than 45 profiles using her name and image alongside works like "legit trade", "forex educator" and "earn big".
If you're ever contacted by an account it's always worth seeing if there are any other accounts for that person. We have had to help a very successful Premier League football Academy Director who is a repeat victim of Instagram impersonations by scammers. Helpfully, anyone who gets a DM from "him" can look up his genuine account (even though he never posts).
Scammers seek to move quickly to empty accounts and then disappear. If you have engaged with a scammer, and particularly if you’ve given them login details, bank details, or anything else, then you should move quickly too. Report the incident to your bank, report any scam accounts to the social media provider, and tell anyone who may have been contacted by the scammer that you have been hacked/scammed.
And try not to be ashamed. One of the biggest issues in scamming is that we feel so ashamed that we were stupid enough to fall for confidence tricksters and scammers. They operate online, offline, and all over. They are merciless, cold and calculated and sometimes we are caught out. You can’t change the mistakes you have made, you can only do everything you can to repair, you can learn from it, but you should forgive yourself too.