Kingston Police warn of online friend-impersonating fake sales scam

Kingston Police are warning residents of an online scheme where scammers use fake or hacked accounts purporting to be someone you’re familiar with, such as a friend or colleague, to create fake sales listings in the hopes of luring in trusting social media users. Photo via Firmbee.com.

Most social media users are familiar with the all-too-common friend or message request from an account that appears to be someone they know, but one of the seedy reasons this happens is part of a larger scam, according to police.

“For years, cybercriminals have used social media to post fake listings for popular items such as furniture or electronics. As these scams have grown in popularity, many people have learned to be careful when buying items online from strangers,” Kingston Police said in a press release on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022.

“Now, cybercriminals are impersonating people you trust to lure you into their fake listing scams.”

Police explained that, in a recent scam, cybercriminals have been using “social engineering to gain access to the social media accounts of everyday users, like your friends and family.” In other words, the scammers hack or spoof the accounts of real everyday people, often using the same name, profile photo, and bio information as the accounts of real people. Once they have done this, the fraudsters will post items for sale from the hacked or fake accounts, police said.

“Since the listing appears to be from someone who you know and trust, it may seem legitimate,” Kingston Police said.

“However, if you try to buy the item from the seller, you won’t receive the item you wanted. Instead, your money will go directly to the cybercriminals!”

Like the fake accounts, the items they list for sale are also fake, and when victims of the scam mistakenly trust the accounts, they’ll often send some or all of the money for the item that’s listed prior to receiving that item or seeing it in-person. The victims are then left without the item falsely listed for sale, and the money they transferred to the scammers attempting to buy the item.

Kingston Police offered the following tips to help area residents stay safe from similar scams:

  • Watch out for social media listings that offer popular items at a price that seems too good to be true. These scams rely on impulsive actions, so always think before you click.
  • Verify that [sales or marketplace] listings are legitimate before taking action. Contact the poster [of the item] using another using another method of communication, such as a phone call or text message.
  • Don’t let your social media account be used against your friends and family. Protect your login credentials by creating unique, strong passwords for each of your accounts.

“Stop, look, and think,” Kingston Police urged. “Don’t be fooled by scammers!”

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