IN SHORT: An innocent but interesting message is posted on a Facebook community page. It’s about a lost child or dog, or a serial killer, or a bear attack. But as soon as it’s shared enough, it’s edited – replaced with an offer that could drain your bank account or steal your identity.
It goes on: “Download App, Sign Up and Get Rewarded by EBT. Please Share With Others so we all Gain From This.”
The verification message begins: “Your EBT NCP prepaid card has been funded! $2,543 has been added to your NCP Mobile account.”
The scam message has appeared on community pages, mainly across the USA, under several different user names.
But weirdly, the screenshot of the app’s payment verification is exactly the same. Every single user seems to have captured the screenshot at 11:33, with four internet connection bars and the phone’s battery half full.
It gets weirder.
A new method of scamming on Facebook
The message is clearly part of what Africa Check has come to call the Facebook post editing scam. We’ve been investigating and exposing it for months.
Here are a few of our reports:
- Facebook users from Africa say Tennessee prisoner an active serial killer in US cities? No, weird warning a hoax
- Facebook fraudsters up to new tricks: Go2Bank scam spread by editing ordinary posts
- Girl in blue ‘missing’ across the USA? No, just another Facebook scam
- Serial killer, missing child, missing dog? Beware the new Facebook post editing scam
This is how the scam works.
A seemingly innocent message is posted on a Facebook community page. But the message has lots of potential for virality, for users to share it. Some messages pull at the heartstrings – a missing child or dog, for example. Others evoke fear: a serial killer on the loose, or a bear attack on a car.
Once the message has been shared by enough users – and passed by the community page moderators – it is edited. Its contents are replaced with a scam message, such as the “NCP is running a Promotion” scam.
It’s often difficult to work out exactly how a scam works.
But most Facebook post editing scams try to get users to download an app. This is likely to install malware on their devices. The malware could then steal valuable personal information such as credit card details. It could even take over the person’s online identity.
This brings us to how Africa Check first came across the Facebook editing scam.
Many of the messages are posted on US community group pages. But the users posting them have names common in Southern African countries.
We strongly suspect that these users’ Facebook accounts have been hacked. But we’re still to confirm the suspicion.
How to protect yourself
Here are a few ways to identify this particular scamming method, and protect yourself from it.
- It may seem odd, but all of the first, pre-edited messages include the round push-pin location emoji. This may be to remind the scammers to change the message to include the name of the community page they’re posting in.
- Most of the messages are posted on local community pages, often informal buy-and-sell groups.
- Don’t believe – or share – messages from people you don’t know, particularly if they are posted in an open community page.
- If you’re a Facebook page moderator, take a little time to investigate people posting messages that seem particularly sensational – about a lost child, for example.
- And if you come across an offer on Facebook that seems too good to be true, take a look at the post’s edit history. You can do this by clicking the three dots at the top right of the post.
Finally, be careful online. There are lots of internet fraudsters trying to con people out of their money – even on Facebook. Find out more in our general guide to Facebook scams, and how to spot them.
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.Publishers guide
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.