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Is that friend request a fraud? What to watch out for on social media

WHEN Ashley Hart, a senior executive at TSB Bank, was invited to connect with his boss on LinkedIn, it would have been easy to simply click “yes”.

But doing so would only have helped increasingly sneaky scammers trick the bank’s customers into handing over money.

The invite was not from his boss but a fraudster, who planned to use the profile to trick customers into handing over personal information.

Luckily, Ashley is head of fraud for the bank and clued-up about scams like this.

Crooks are creating bogus profiles like this not just on the business networking tool but also social sites Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

And they are doing it targeting workers at all sorts of big companies, from banks to BT, that have contact with customers online.

It might be the name of a real colleague whose identity has been pinched or a made-up person they claim works there.

But if Ashley had accepted the request, from “Natalie Johnson”, he would have given the scammer credibility — making their fake profile look real because they are pals with others from TSB.

“Natalie Johnson” — assumed to be a fake name — claimed to be TSB’s managing director and lists the bank and insurer Aviva in the interests section.

Ashley said: “Obviously I’m pretty clear on who leads TSB!

“So the fraudster stood no chance. They were hoping I would accept the request without paying any attention, which would legitimise the profile — making it more useful for committing fraud and convincing potential victims.”

Ashley is still struggling to get the profile deleted from LinkedIn, meaning potential victims remain at risk.

Fraudsters trawl social media to find customers with complaints, then contact them pretending to respond to that complaint. Often they use fake profiles to verify their own identities. 

Or people looking to speak to someone senior at a bank might find them online and message them directly, not realising they are being baited into a scam.

Once in contact, fraudsters trick customers into revealing personal data then use it to access their bank account or to open a credit card in their name.

Or they commit “safe account” scams, where they pose as bank staff and convince victims to transfer their cash — often thousands of pounds — into a different account.

In one such case, a TSB customer in their sixties from rural Scotland lost £40,000 after a scammer posing as a bank worker convinced them to move their savings to a “safe account”.

They were later reimbursed by TSB, which refunds all fraud victims.

Where victims are wary, fraudsters can try to lend legitimacy to their story by asking the customer to look them up on LinkedIn. 

When Sun Money searched for Natalie Johnson this week on Google, the LinkedIn profile for “Natalie Johnson, Managing Director, TSB Bank” came top in the search results.

When you click through, the name TSB has been removed from the page, although it has not been disabled by the site as requested by Ashley.

Fraudsters use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to open bogus accounts too.

Last month the name and image of Irish singer Damien Dempsey was used to create hoax accounts on Instagram and Twitter.

These were then used to contact fans and ask for donations.

Ashley said: “We see a significant number of scam victims who fall foul of fraudsters using social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Snapchat to trick their victims. 

“Much more responsibility should sit with these companies to take these criminal accounts and posts down. 

“Social media is a vital tool for friends and family to stay in touch and for customers to speak to businesses. But remember, criminals use these platforms too, often hiding in plain sight. 

“Always be careful about accepting friend requests and never trust somebody just because of their post or profile. Otherwise, you could be leaving yourself and others open to fraud.”

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