Friday, January 04, 2019

How I Lost My FaceBook Account Because I Tried to Help FaceBook Scammers are Taking Over FaceBook Event Pages

I should be dead by now. The FaceBook scammers were not happy with me. “You’ll die before the year ends” one said. “You will die this weekend” said another. A scammer had posted they had tickets for sale for every Fleetwood Mac show in the U.S. They had Elton John too. And Travis Scott. And the free Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting. And the free local snowflake parade in my tiny hometown in New Jersey. I decided to take action.

I go to a lot of concerts. I keep track of what’s happening by saving these events on Facebook. They appear in my FaceBook calendar. I keep up with the event, what time the acts go on and maybe buy or sell tickets. It’s a great tool.

Last September the Smithereens were playing the Hoboken Music & Arts Festival. I saved the event. Then I noticed under the discussion tab that someone had tickets for sale. “Me and my family can’t make it to this wonderful event. Kindly DM me for cheap tickets at a discount rate if you are interested” the offer said. But it’s a free event. I looked at the seller’s profile. It looked a little off. A couple of photos of a really attractive girl. No friends. Didn’t live in the area. I noticed the username in the url did not match the name. I did a Facebook search on the username, then searched those results for posts by the username. The search revealed that this FaceBook account had tickets for sale for multiple events all over the world. I found dozens more accounts with similar offerings.

I discovered that FaceBook provides GIFS to use in comments. Some of them were pretty funny. There is a spinning “Fraud Alert” siren and flashing “This Person is a Scammer” text. There is Elaine from “Seinfeld” pointing “Fake! Fake! Fake!” and Cardi B, “You just mad Fake!” I started posting these as comments to the scammers ticket offers. Some unsuspecting users inquired about buying the tickets. I was especially concerned with these so I simply commented that “This person is a scammer” to warn them. Sometimes I posted the search results displaying all the tickets they had for sale. I received a few thank yous.

I decided to engage these offerings to see how these thieves operated. I used FaceBook’s messenger to DM Edward Moses (username rehemamwangek) about Phish Tickets. He has tickets to all their events.

 “I need 2 tickets”.

 “OK” He needs to figure out which event.

 “How Much? Good Seats?”

 “Yes, good seats, how many do you need?”

 “Uh, I told you already! I need two! How can I get them?” (Still no confirmation of what I am trying to buy).

 “OK, they are digital tickets. I can send them to your email”

 “OK, where are the seats?”

 “You have PayPal? Make sure you use ‘Friends & Family option’” (a non refundable option).

 “Yes, I have PayPal, Where are the seats? How much?”

 “Which show did you want? I am selling tickets for two shows that I can no longer attend since my wife is having a baby” (or “I am in the hospital”, or “had to leave town on business”, or “my mother is sick.”)

 “Oh, really? The Phish concert.” I’m not much help.

 “They are $80 but I will sell them to you for $60 since I do not want them to go to waste.” Good seats for Phish are well over $100 to begin with.

 “Ok, what is your email? Oh, and where are the seats?”

 He quickly looks up a Phish event and takes a gamble.

 “Seats 15 & 16”

 “What Section?”

 “Section 115”

 “What row?”

 “Row 11, send me a screenshot when you are done.”

 “Done with what?”

 “Making the payment.”

 “Oh, OK, what is your email?” (an actual email I received)

 “OK, I am going to run that email through my (imaginary) security software. In the meantime can you show me proof of tickets? There are a lot of scammers out there.”


 A few minutes pass. “How about that proof?”

 “You will see the tickets after you send payment. I have been scammed before too.”

 “Send me some kinda screenshot. No proof, no payment.”

 “I am a good, honest, Christian man. I would not try to scam you. You can trust me. I swear on my mother’s grave. You can send me half first”

 “OK, but that email came up blacklisted. Where do you live?”

 “What do you mean? That is not possible”

 “It says not to send payment to that address due to suspicious activity.”

 “I don’t get you.”

 “I can’t send payment to that address. It says it’s registered overseas. Where do you live?”

 “Wait until I speak to my colleague. I will get you another address.” Ignoring the fact that I already don’t trust him.

 “OK, get me that proof too.”

 “Okay, I will send you proof”

 A few minutes go by while the scammer opens up photoshop and doctors up an already prepared generic graphic or is lazy and sends just a QR or bar code. I received the same useless graphic four times and also some very convincing photoshoped images but with misspellings and other errors. I receive one from Edward.

 “I sent you proof. Okay, let me know when you make payment.” He sends me a QR code with scribblings to mask it.

 “You call that proof? It does not say the name of the event, the date, the seats, nothing. You think I am a fool?”

 Then I receive a link to buy a Google Play gift card or iTunes. “Wait, what happened to Paypal? Where are you located?”

 “Buy the gift card and send me the code. Let me know when you are done and send me the screenshot, then I will send the tickets” he says ignoring me.

At that point I am through having fun. I go to the search page with all the scammer’s ticket offerings and make warning comments with GIFS on as many of their posts as I can before the scammer can see them. Once they notice, they curse at me in Nigerian or tell me that I will die. Then they block me to prevent me from causing further damage.

Once I got my first death threat I thought it would be better to use a fake account. I tried that. Facebook quickly takes down those accounts as they eventually do the scammers. But it’s a game of whack-a-mole. The scammers keep opening up new ones knowing that they are only temporary and going in for the quick score. The smart ones post on the day of the show right up to show time, looking for people looking for last minute deals, desperate to see their favorite artist. The dumb ones even post after the show is over. Some are more ambitious and post six months in advance. The upcoming Rolling Stones shows area already littered with offers.

 My main goal in all of this was to create awareness. Most of the time I simply make GIF comments on a few of their posts to big ticket shows and then block them before they even see them.

Since I was using my own account to help police FaceBook, I put my personal account in jeopardy. The comment “Scammer !!!” was tagged as bullying and it was removed despite my appeal. I called a thief a thief and the thief won. FaceBook provides a GIF that calls people scammers but using text is bullying? Then my account was suspended, then totally disabled. I am sure the scammers reported me and FaceBook’s bots went into action. If a real person at FaceBook checked they would see that those accounts have probably been suspended and if not they will be soon.

Did anybody at FaceBook, a real person, look at my activity? Instead of FaceBook recognizing that I was helping FaceBook prevent fraud, I was penalized, kicked out while the scammers continue doing business. I am now going through the process of having my account restored. I have submitted an appeal to get my account back. I heard it can take a while. It’s the new year. I am still alive.

 What should FaceBook do? Assign a few people to monitor event pages of major concert tours, discover the fraudulent accounts and immediately disable the accounts for violation of terms of service. Yes, they will open new accounts, but if this is done quickly and consistently it will eliminate 1000’s of scam postings in just a few minutes and it will be harder for the scammers to be successful. Most of these scammers have posts on dozens of events all at once and add new ones everyday.

FaceBook could also increase awareness of these scammer posts to the event admins. Many do not know or care that this is happening. I contacted a few smaller venues directly and they quickly deleted the posts. The few larger venues I contacted ignored my requests.