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Perils of Social Media - 2 The New Scammers

AI generated Image - When I first asked for an illustration of a scammer at work, AI kept making images of lone wolves working away in basements with graffiti on the walls, but that isn't how most modern scammers operate. There are thousands and thousands of them and they are more likely to be working in a modern office building or a multi -storey apartment block in places like India, Cambodia, Myanmar or Dubai, under direction of various overlords

Wow! Double Wow! I am firstly amazed at how sophisticated scammers have become and how quick they’ve been to make use of new technology such as AI. Secondly, I’m very impressed at how much Google Translate* has improved. The weird Grammar which used to be a dead giveaway on German texts is now nearly perfect. Chat GTP 4 also has an excellent translate function, which again only made one error, albeit a different one to the one Google made. [* Must be a different version to the one attached to Blogger - I just read a German version of a couple of posts and many of the old errors remain, but still better than before. Son uses the paid version].

I was going to write about young people and Social Media today, but I had an interesting experience this  week which is how I found out how advanced Scammers and Large Language Models had become since I last wrote about Scammers in January and February 2022.  

This started off with a friend request from a friend of a relative. After I accepted, the conversation went like this......

 Sun 23:18

Image blurred and details changed because most likely this person's image was taken without consent

 Hallo lieber Freund, ich freue mich sehr, dass du meine Freundschaftsanfrage angenommen hast. Mein Name ist C.....E...... und ich bin die Frau, die Sie auf dem Profil sehen. Ich bin 62 Jahre alt und von französisch-spanischer Abstammung. Ich möchte Ihnen mitteilen, dass ich an Kehlkopfkrebs erkrankt bin und leider innerhalb von 5 Monaten sterben werde. Um meine Geschichte zusammenzufassen: Ich bin seit 7 Jahren verwitwet und habe keine Kinder, da ich unfruchtbar bin. Ich habe ein geschätztes Vermögen von 550.000 Euro, das ich vor meinem Tod jemandem hinterlassen möchte, da ich keine Erben, Verwandte oder Freunde habe. Aus diesem Grund habe ich Ihnen heute geschrieben. Bitte antworten Sie mir, wenn Sie mich verstehen. C......E....... 😭💔

[If you don’t have Google translate, briefly it says she is of French -Spanish descent and dying of cancer with only 5 months to live, she’s a widow and has no children, family or friends since her husband died 7 years ago, but has € 550,000 she wants to give to someone].

17 June at 10:53 [I replied]

Liebe C....../Frau E...., es tut mir Leid dass es Ihnen nicht gut geht. Nun ist es mir nicht ganz klar wie ich Ihnen behilflich sein kann. Wenn es um eine Biographie geht, wäre ich schon interessiert, mit oder ohne Belohnung. Wenn es um etwas anderes geht, müssten wir uns näher kennenlernen und es genauer besprechen. Es wundert mich auch wie Sie auf mich gestossen sind und möchte überhaupt mehr über Sie wissen, Ich freue mich auf weitere Zeilen, für heute herzliche Grüße, - Veronika

I was pretty sceptical about someone wanting to give away €550,000 when the mutual friend they claimed to know has several children and a large number of grandchildren and there are undoubtedly many other more worthy causes. Her newly created Facebook Page told me nothing, apart from the picture which she had already sent me - no photos, no bio. I asked why she chose me. I don’t say much on Social Media about myself, so it either had to be via the Blog, the relative or possibly Linked In which I also rarely use. The person at the other end never really answered that question but pressed me for my WhatsApp number so that they could connect me to their solicitor to make the arrangements.

I was reluctant to give it out as I have no other way of contacting some of the people on it. I also thought it was a bit odd that the person made a spelling error in their own name, but then I make plenty of typos too when I'm in a hurry. Nevertheless, I asked my son who happened to be online if we should set up another WhatsApp Number to see what’s going on. He was delighted. There's nothing he likes better than little romp through the murky waters of cyberspace in the middle of the night. I also dropped a note to our mutual 'friend,' to see if there was any truth to any of it, but of course, being on the other side of the world in the wrong time zone there wasn't much chance of an immediate response. 

 I have an idea, my son said, lets set up a 3 -way chat and tell her I would like to meet her.  The person on the other end immediately shut down, but he talked her into joining the chat anyway. She still hadn’t answered any of my questions about her background, other than to repeat her original story and to say that she had lived in Germany most of her life and was a director in her husband’s import company – no place, no name. Because her husband was French, he had insisted on her coming to the hospital in Marseilles. By now she was saying she only had a few days to live, to hurry up and give her that number.

Son suddenly switched on video chat, but she didn't respond. “I’m on oxygen and can’t talk,” she said. "No phone calls either, that's forbidden."    

“Well at least send us a picture,” said my son, reassuring her and telling her that she would surely want us to be just as cautious with her money. It took a while, but a picture eventually came, showing a lady in a hospital bed with a mask on, all the while still telling me to hurry up and send my WhatsApp number. Some other random pictures of women appeared, but they were older ones and unlikely to have been of the same person. Things went back and forth for a while, with no more information, but in the meantime, son was analysing the images and concluded that they were fake. I expect the next stage of this scam would have involved either paying a "lawyer" some kind of fee for drawing up papers or transferring funds or demands for my bank details to deposit the money. 

Our wannabe scammer got quite hostile about the delay. Son then sent them a list of red flags he'd noticed, always being polite and respectful, but the our conversation ended very abruptly at this stage. I won’t publish his list here, in case it helps scammers refine their efforts even more. By the way, it’s not much use blaming the individual doing the scamming, they are forced to do it for various reasons – either straight up poverty, deception, slavery or worse. Catching the kingpins would be interesting though.

According to Visual Capitalist an estimated $486.8 billion was lost to scammers globally in 2023 and Australians alone lost $2.7 billion -largely due to social media, but there was a slight fall on the previous year thanks to efforts by banks and others to prevent scams. This type of scam was most probably an advance fee scam, which involves paying the scammer or their accomplice an upfront fee for some kind of benefit - a lottery win, an inheritance or whatever, after which the scammer disappears. 

I have written a lot about some of the simpler scams in Jan and Feb 2022 – you know the messages purporting to be from your bank, from the Microsoft Service Centre or the Toll Road Company insisting you owe them countless dollars even though you’ve never been near a toll road, but this is a whole new ballgame. Note particularly the elaborate back story.

Son then talked me through making my Facebook Page more private. That might be something worth doing if you don’t want your pictures or personal information used in this way. Afterwards I also reported and blocked this person. 

How to Stop People taking Images or Information from your Facebook Pages

Here are the steps as generated by Microsoft Bing AI (a good use of AI):

  1. Open your Facebook Profile: Go to your Facebook profile by tapping on your profile picture on the Facebook app or by clicking on your name from the desktop version.
  2. Tap on the three dots menu: On your profile, you’ll see three dots near the ‘Edit Profile’ option. Tap on it to open more settings.
  3. Select ‘Lock Profile’: From the available options, select ‘Lock Profile.’ This is the feature that allows you to restrict access to your profile.
  4. Confirm the action: Facebook will now show you an explanation of what locking your profile means. If you’re happy to proceed, tap 'Lock Your Profile’


After completing these steps, your Facebook profile will be locked, and your posts and photos will be visible only to your friends. Moreover, people you’re not friends with won’t be able to share or download your full-size profile picture and cover photo. Remember, you can unlock your profile at any time if you change your mind.

Of  course if you do happen to know someone with a  spare €550,000 to give away, there’s some native bushland that I’d like to interest them in or maybe a social housing project. 

Other Scams 

Jim Browning has made a career out of busting such scammers. In this one about a crypto scam, you’ll see that they have Google translate, right up there on the screen.

On my son’s advice, I’ve also been listening to the Darknet Diaries - a  fascinating Podcast Series by Jack Rhysider about some of the more elaborate scams such as the one about fake universities – one  person used it to get a job as a forensic psychologist in the UK with dire consequences for the justice system. 

That particular one, along with several other episodes is also available on YouTube.

Next time I’ll write more about the perils of Social Media and young people and some things we could do to protect them. We should also talk more about AI and the tension between privacy, security and surveillance