New social media scheme targets business owners, innocent users

New social media scheme targets business owners, innocent users

PITTSBURGH — The federal government has given billions of dollars to small businesses struggling during the pandemic. With that assistance has come plenty of fraud.

A new scheme is targeting business owners and innocent social media users.

Mark Duffy said he and his wife are only working part time, and desperation was the reason he responded to a photo one of his Facebook friends posted. It has a heading that claims to be from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The flyer offers people thousands of dollars in relief payments but only if they pay a small processing fee up front.

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“Then it gave me step-by-step instructions on how to do it for Walmart. He told me what gift cards to go buy at Walmart because I couldn’t do it over PayPal,” Duffy said.

He searched the state’s website on small business loans and discovered it doesn’t require processing fee payments in the form of gift cards. He later found out a scammer created a fake profile using pictures of one of his real life friends.

“Scammers like payments to be made through these payments because they’re essentially untraceable and it’s like handing someone cash,” said Caitlin Driscoll, public relations director for the Western Pennsylvania Better Business Bureau.

Driscoll said her office has received several reports that con artists are offering grants for a small fee.

“Scammers are hacking account, or they’re creating separate look alike profiles using people’s unprotected pictures and information and then adding their friends on social media,” she said.

She added if someone asks you to send money via PayPal or through gift cards, you need to do more research.

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