“Don’t talk to strangers” is a line that parents often drill into their kids from a young age. For me the phrase still brings to mind the image of the Child Snatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which terrified me throughout my childhood.
With the rise of social media, baddies can find out information about you at the click of a button. Knowing who we should and shouldn’t trust is even more important. The trouble is, not everyone out to scam you will look like undertakers dressed as clowns trying to entice you with free lollipops.
This time though, they’re targeting MoneyAware followers…
Sometimes they seem like perfectly genuine people who work for perfectly genuine companies, contacting you to say you’ve been mis-sold an IVA or that you’ve got a court hearing you knew nothing about.
That doesn’t mean that what they’ve got to say is anything less than fraudulent.
Recently we’ve found out that something similar is doing the rounds on Facebook. However, as they’re targeting their messages at MoneyAware followers things have got personal!
We recently heard from a couple of people who follow MoneyAware’s Facebook page. They were sent messages from someone they don’t know who asked them to connect with him because they like the MoneyAware Facebook page. Here’s a screengrab of the message.
In case you can’t read it, the message says:
My name is XYZ.
Excuse the unusual approach.
Hope you don’t mind but may we connect please?
Got your name from MoneyAware on FB. I know how it feels to be in debt. My reason for contacting you is because I have something which may or may not interest you or someone you know.
This is a quick 2 minute video for you to watch if you like. If you have any questions of would like more information please met me know. Free training and support provided. Thank you.”
The message then includes a link to a YouTube video which tells people they can make lots of money by starting their own business in ‘health and wellbeing’, and to get in touch with the suspected scammer for more information. The video promises award winning training, the option to work in 158 different countries, and the chance to earn money in just a few hours a week. It’s all very tempting!
But you know what they say, “If it’s too good to be true…”
While it might sound like a great opportunity on the face of it, it’s always best to do some research of your own if you get a message like this, and watch out for what’s known as ‘pyramid schemes’.
What’s a pyramid scheme?
Pyramid schemes are usually ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes that are very risky and can end up costing you a lot of money. In the UK they’re illegal.
Genuine businesses are based on providing valuable goods and services, whereas pyramid schemes are scams based on drawing in more and more investors.
The way it usually works is that you pay a fee or make an upfront investment in the scheme in order to join. This money isn’t put towards the business, or invested in products, but instead is passed up the chain to those at the top. The only way to get your money back is persuade other people to join so that their joining fees are passed up the chain to you. That’s one of the reasons it’s called a pyramid scheme – there’s a lot of people at the bottom of the chain and only a few at the top.
According to Which? members of pyramid schemes do sell goods and services, but usually to other members rather than to customers. Also the goods and services they sell are usually low in value, such as booklets that promote the scheme, rather than any sort of legitimate product.
Although the people at the top make money from those lower down the pyramid this usually becomes unsustainable, and at that point the scheme folds, leaving those at the bottom of the pyramid out of pocket.
As pyramid schemes are fraudulent and unauthorised, it’s very unlikely that those involved in pyramid schemes are able to recover their money.
How can I tell the difference between a pyramid scheme and a genuine business?
Fraudsters who run pyramid schemes try to make them look like legitimate businesses, and will often have website or produce promotional materials (like the video our followers were sent!) to convince people that they’re genuine.
However there are a few things that should set warning bells ringing that a business is actually a pyramid scheme:
- You’re asked to join a group or scheme where you make money by recruiting new members
- You’re told the business will help you make money quickly with little or low risk
- You have to pay an up-front joining fee, invest in the scheme or make another significant payment
- The scheme involves selling low value goods or services that promote the scheme
What should I do if I’m approached to join a pyramid scheme?
If you’re approached to join what you believe is a pyramid scheme, you should report it to Action Fraud, the police’s fraud reporting centre.
Has MoneyAware or StepChange Debt Charity got anything to do with these Facebook messages?
No! The person who sent the message says he gets his contacts from our Facebook page – information that’s publicly available such as people who like or comment on our posts, or write messages on our wall.
If someone gets in touch with you to promote a scheme or to sell you a product because you follow StepChange Debt Charity or MoneyAware on any social media channel, please get in touch to let us know.