Scammer spotting 101

I wrote this in answer to an A2A on Quora, from someone wanting to know how to tell if FB friend requests are genuine. I thought I’d reproduce it here just in case it’s of use to followers of this blog.

There are various things you can do to check the veracity of a friend request.

The easiest one is if the request appears to come from an existing FB friend, then simply message that person and ask them if they’ve set up a second profile for some reason.

If, however, it appears to come either from someone you know (but with whom you aren’t friends on FB) or from a friend-of-a-friend or even a total stranger, then these are the questions you need to ask yourselves and the steps you need to take to verify your suspicions:

  1. Is the URL the same/similar to the username? It doesn’t need to be identical — I could, say, have the username Sally Poulson and the URL and that would (possibly) be legit.

The photo here is an active scammer who decided to send me a friend request a few weeks ago. (The person/people running the account evidently didn’t realize that I’d had two or three previous requests from people using that same photo…) As you can see here, the username is Justins Morgan but the URL — red arrow — is aeshablabaran.aesha

2. Are there any other anomalies? Yes. Justins seems to identify as female (not impossible and far be it from me to argue with anyone’s preferred pronoun) — blue arrow — which seems to tally more closely with Aesha than with Justins.

3. Does your admirer have two first names or two surnames, but not one of each? Scammers, for some mysterious reason, love names like Jason Michael, Richard Thomas, Watson Bennett, and Hardwicke Benning.

4. Where does the person claim to live and work? If they’re home-grown American boys who’ve never left the good ol’ US of A, then you probably wouldn’t expect to see text in a language other than English (or possibly Spanish) in the background of their photos.

5. What is their relationship status? Scammers just adore being widowed. Occasionally, as with William who proposed marriage to me in the space of a couple of hours (Love in the Time of Dollar-a), they might list themselves as single but will soon explain the tragic story of how their wife died and left their poor child motherless… so sad.

The motherless child ploy is usually so you feel pity for them. Their intention is to make you fall in love with them, but then — just when they’re about to fly 6000 miles to be with you — motherless child falls ill and cannot be left. They have no idea how long it will be before you can be together because they simply do not have the money to pay for the poor waif’s life-saving operation and so must stay where they are until the bairn either dies or recovers without surgery. Unless, of course, you’d like to make a payment to their friend’s bank account; PayPal and Western Union also considered. Thanks. (Which is why I got in with the sick child manoeuvre before Willy did…)

6. Are they high-ranking officers in the armed forces (and typically serving in Afghanistan or Syria or somewhere conflict-y)? Unless you have military contacts yourself, then these requests are almost invariably bogus. US Generals do not try and find their soulmates via random FB friend requests. They just don’t.

7. Do you have any mutual friends? What do these mutual friends have in common? William (in the link above) was targeting people from one of the FB editors’ groups I belong to. Do not fall into the trap of thinking ‘oh, this must be a good guy because we have 15 mutual friends’ — the ones before you probably thought much the same which is why they accepted him. If in doubt, message your mutual friends and ask them what they know about their new chum.

8. And finally, right-click on their photo and select ‘search Google for image’ (or however your browser words it) and see what/who comes up.

And a last minute edit to add something pointed out by a friend (thanks, Nancy):
9. Also check their FB ‘About’ section and look at the things they like. These people with their oh-so-English-sounding names often show an interest in the most unexpected things.

Hope this helps.



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