New Scam Alert: The Fake Friend Trap

In the digital age, where communications become a simple task with a few clicks, scammers find innovative ways to exploit unsuspecting victims. A new technique that has recently surfaced is the “Fake Friend” call scam. It is reported earlier this year, that more than 945 victims have fallen prey, losing more than S$3.2 million in this new scam. In this article, we take a look at the scam tactics employed by scammers and prevention tips on how to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Friend or Foe?

The new scam variant begins with a seemingly innocent phone call from an unknown contact without a prefixed country code. This would allow a higher possibility of avoiding the ScamShield app or gaining the trust of targeted victims to pick up the call. The scammer would skillfully engage in conversations, hinting that they know you well, and proceed by asking you to guess their names. By nature, victims would suggest a friend who sounds similar to the scammer, and let down their guards to trust the scammers. After gaining trust, the scammers would then ask you to save their new number by giving you reasons such as loss of phone, stolen phone, or changed to a new number. With their contacts saved, victims will be more likely to pick up and trust the words of the scammers.

The scammers would then wait a few days before making their next move. They will paint a convincing story that they were unable to do a fund transfer due to the need to update their bank for one-time passwords (OTPs). Leveraging your sense of friendship, they will ask you to help by transferring funds via PayNow or fund transfer to an account on their behalf. They would continue to sound convincing by giving you a time and date they would repay you.

Unfortunately, many unsuspecting victims would willingly offer financial assistance, believing that they are helping out a genuine friend. The truth will only unfold when the money is not returned within the agreed timeframe and attempts to contact them proved fruitless.

Story from a ‘fake friend’ scam victim

L, a victim of the ‘Fake Friend’ scam, recently shared his experience. It all began with a call from a number without the +65 prefix, where the caller claimed to be a friend who had lost his phone and acquired a new number. L was encouraged to guess who the caller was and to update the contact information. The voice resembled that of his ex-colleague, Alex, which the caller acknowledged. The conversation continued, with Alex mentioning his new F&B business and inviting L to the grand opening.

Days later, ‘Alex’ called again, sounding distressed. He explained that he had forgotten to inform his bank about the new number, causing problems with the payment for his renovation team. He urgently requested L’s assistance in transferring funds, promising prompt repayment once the issue was resolved that very afternoon. Believing it to be genuine, L agreed and transferred the money as instructed.

However, ‘Alex’ called back, demanding another transfer to his supplier. When L expressed his inability to help immediately, ‘Alex’ became angry and abruptly ended the call. Feeling suspicious about this uncharacteristic behavior, L contacted a common friend to verify the situation. To his surprise, the common friend revealed that Alex was still using the same number and had not reached out regarding any change.

It was then that L realized he had fallen victim to the scam. He tried calling the previous number Alex used, where the real Alex answered, confirming the deception. Unfortunately, the scammer had then become unreachable.

L’s cautionary tale serves as a reminder to stay vigilant and verify the information. By being aware of these types of scams and maintaining open communication with friends, we can protect ourselves and others from falling prey to fraudulent schemes.

Spot the red flags

To avoid falling into the ‘Fake Friend’ trap, it is essential to be well informed of the red flags associated with this scam and learn how to prevent them.

  1. Guessing game

The scammers will attempt to mimic the way your real friends communicate with you. They may really sound like someone you know, or even speak in a way like someone you know. In this scam variant, the scammers may use words to encourage you to guess who they are, or even know your name. This is to ensure that you are more likely to trust their words.

It is recommended not to suggest any names in this case. Get them to answer you instead. Real friends will have no issue verifying who they really are! Always be wary of cases of impersonation and remember, knowing your name doesn’t mean they are your friends.

2. Change in contact details

In this scam variant, scammers will inform you that they have changed their mobile number, and ask you to save the new contact. This can ensure that their victims are more likely to pick up or trust their words as subsequent calls may appear as if they are from a genuine friend.

It is important to verify the authenticity of the new number. Contact your friend’s previous number or reach out to your common friends. Ensure the caller is legit before you save or replace the new contact.

3. Delayed financial requests

Unlike the other scams, the ‘Fake Friend’ scammers don’t ask for money immediately. Instead, they engage in casual conversations, build trust, and ask for financial assistance at a later date with an empty promise of returning the money.

To avoid falling into this trap, be skeptical when someone asks you for financial assistance, especially if you have not met them. If you want to help a friend in need, always ask them to meet up with you face to face. This can ensure that the person you are helping is indeed your real friend!

4. Broken promises

The main purpose of the scam is to get its victims to do a fund transfer to a bank account. In the new scam variant, scammers will request help from their victims to transfer funds to someone else’s bank account on their behalf. To gain your trust, the scammers would then promise to repay the borrowed amount promptly after notifying their banks of the change of contact number. Unfortunately, the victims would realize they have been scammed when the attempts to reach the scammers prove futile. Of course, the promised repayment will never be received.

Always be skeptical about requests for financial assistance. Never transfer funds on behalf of someone you haven’t met in person. Always remember, if something feels off or suspicious, it probably is!

By remaining vigilant and sharing these prevention tips with your friends and family, you can raise awareness about these scams and help others avoid falling into the trap. Genuine friendships are not based on financial exploitation, so it is crucial to ensure you are assisting the real friend if you genuinely want to help. Together, we can create a safer digital environment and protect one another from the dangers of scams and deceit.

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