Social media scam targets Facebook, Twitter, Instagram users' relatives

February 14, 2014 (CHICAGO)

It sounds unbelievable, but it's happening more and more to thousands of unsuspecting family members here in the Chicago area and across the country.

International hackers and thieves are trolling social media accounts, getting your personal information and using it to steal thousands of dollars from your grandparents, aunts and uncles.

"You have to call me, I am having a heart attack," Michael DiCarlo's mother said in a frantic voicemail last month. She and DiCarlo's 92-year-old grandmother thought he had been kidnapped in Mexico. His grandmother received an international call.

"Someone posing as me got on the phone and I was very, the person was very upset . . . My grandmother said the voice was muffled so she couldn't really tell if it was me or not. The person was crying and said, 'Nonna, please just send the money,'" said Michael DiCarlo.

It was the name for his grandmother, "Nonna," which made the story believable. She went to the bank to wire $1,900, but the transfer failed.

The scam artists most likely got Michael's personal information, including the name "Nonna", from Facebook.

"They knew my name and how it was written in her account, in her Facebook account," said a businessman who didn't want to be identified, because he's too embarrassed he fell for it.

He wired $2,000 to London after getting a fraudulent e-mail from his niece's account, saying she lost her wallet and passport. The thieves most likely knew she was in London because she "checked in" on Facebook.

"You want to move quickly you sense the desperation in their messages," said the businessman.

"And that sense you don't know what's happening around you and that's what they bank on, they want you to leave your house immediately and get to a Western Union place and wire the money," said Steve Bernas, Better Business Bureau.

If you are actively on social media or Facebook you can increase your privacy settings to protect yourself, or better yet, don't list your family members at all.

When traveling internationally you can avoid unreliable WiFi networks, and also consider not "checking in." And if anyone calls or emails you, claiming to be a family member, ask them something only that person would know.

"I think what scares me the most is how believable it was," said DiCarlo.

Also keep in mind that even if your privacy settings are at full strength, that may not be enough.

Your friends who are tagged in posts and pictures could have their pages set to "public" for the world to see. The best advice may be limiting and editing all of those posts and pictures.

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