FBI Portland
Portland Media Office
(503) 460-8060
August 7, 2018

FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Instant Messaging Frauds

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week, building a digital defense against instant messaging platform frauds.

Not surprisingly, tens of millions of people in the United States have social media accounts, and that fact alone has revolutionized the way that people communicate with each other. Instead of paying extra to make an overseas phone call, you can converse with your friends and family anywhere in the world with the click of a button. However, this ease of access also provides scam artists with a world of potential victims at their fingertips.

Let me share a personal example.

A few days ago I was on an instant messaging platform that allows users to communicate with their friends over the Internet. I noticed that I had received a message that looked as though it came from a friend of mine. The message included a video link and read: “Hey I saw this video. Isn’t this you?” I was suspicious, so I didn’t click on the link. The next day he contacted me outside of the app and said that fraudsters had hacked his account and not to click on any of the links that were sent because they contained a computer virus.

With these scams, you will usually receive a message that appears to be from a friend or family member. The fraudsters are hoping that you will trust the message if it comes from someone you think you know. Oftentimes, they also attach a link to the message and encourage you to click on that link. Like in the case of my friend, if you click on the link you will get a virus on your computer that allows the hacker access to your private information. This can perpetuate the scam by making your contacts vulnerable to scam solicitations.

In other cases, the scammer will send you a message claiming that you have qualified for “free money”. Nothing is ever truly free, of course, and you find out that you have to pay a fee for “processing and delivery” before you receive the supposed cash.

Another form of this scam could coerce you into sending personal information. The con will ask you to fill out some sort of form that requires personal information such as your address and social security number.

The best way to spot and avoid these scams is to avoid clicking on any links that you receive from friends or family until you contact the sender outside of app to verify that he was the one who really sent the message. If you are concerned about the legitimacy of a particular account, report it to the company that runs that particular instant messaging platform.

If you have been victimized by this scam or any other online scam, you can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.