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Facebook hackers target small business owners to scam money for ads

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It took just 15 minutes for hackers to infiltrate Sydney single mum Sarah McTaggart’s Facebook page.

From there, they also took control of the account she uses to run her small business, wiping out 90 percent of the client base she has been building up for the past four years – almost in an instant.

Their target? The PayPal account she uses to buy Facebook ads for her business.

Sarah McTaggart has lost access to her business, which she runs through Facebook.
Sarah McTaggart has lost access to her business, which she runs through Facebook. (Supplied)

Ms McTaggart is among many small business owners who say they have had their Facebook pages hacked and fraudulent charges made on their PayPal or bank accounts as the scammers buy up ads with their money.

It was last Thursday evening when Ms McTaggart first noticed something was happening with her Facebook account.

“I was just watching TV and I opened up Facebook. I saw I had received and accepted a friend request from some guy in in the US who I didn’t send a friend request to,” Ms McTaggart said.

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“Then, about five minutes later, Facebook sent me an email saying my account had been disabled because I had breached community standards,” she said.

Hackers changed Ms McTaggart's Facebook profile to that of a flag associated with ISIS.

The hackers had used a well-known technique, previously reported on by 9news.com.au, which involves changing the profile picture of the account they have hacked to that of a flag associated with the terrorist group ISIS.

The ISIS flag breaches Facebook’s community standards and automatically triggers an alert which causes Facebook to boot the user out of their account.

In another measure designed to keep her out, the hackers also changed Ms McTaggart’s age on her account, making her too young to own a Facebook account.

Ms McTaggart said she immediately took measures to to try report the hack to Facebook and prove her identity and age, but they were unsuccessful.

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Next, the hackers took control of her business page.

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“I woke up the next morning and I received an email from PayPal saying a payment of $320 had been authorised for Facebook ads,” Ms McTaggart said.

Ms McTaggart said she had been unable to get the money the hackers spent on Facebook ads through her account back from PayPal.
Ms McTaggart said she had been unable to get the money the hackers spent on Facebook ads through her account back from PayPal. (Supplied)

Ms McTaggart had previously used the PayPal account to buy ads for her dreadlock business – Better Off Dread – where she creates and maintains dreadlocks for clients as well as selling accessories.

The mother-of-one said she was devastated to lose access to both her personal and business page.

Her business, which is largely run out of Facebook, was her livelihood, Ms McTaggart said.

“It is so distressing. Close to 90 percent of my new business inquiries come through Facebook,” she said.

“Almost all of my communications with my clients is on Facebook, so disabling is my account has completely cut off my capacity to talk to any of those people.

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“I’m booked out with clients until mid-January, and I have no way of confirming appointments with those people. They’ve got no way of cancelling if they are sick.”

Ms McTaggart said she was initially confident she would be able to get access to her accounts back.

“I was thinking of course this will get resolved,” she said.

But, after exhausting all of the suggestions offered by Facebook’s customer service department online, Ms McTaggart said she was left frustrated by Facebook’s lack of accountability, with no number available to call the social media giant directly.

“It just dawned on me gradually that this was quite a complex situation, and there is actually no way to speak to a human at Facebook,” she said.

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PayPal had also refused to refund the $320 the hackers spent on ads, she said.

“PayPal won’t refund that as I had an advertising agreement in place with Facebook,” she said.

“And I haven’t been able to communicate with anyone at Facebook to get them to refund it.”

A list of the charges Ianni Nicolaou found on his bank account statement after he was hacked.A list of the charges Ianni Nicolaou found on his bank account statement after he was hacked. (Supplied)

Ms McTaggart’s story is familiar to Ianni Nicolaou, a US real estate agent from Alabama.

Mr Nicolaou had his personal Facebook page and his business page hacked two months ago in August and has been unable to regain access to them both ever since.

“It’s awful. I’m a realtor and it’s absolutely necessary to use the platform these days,” Mr Nicolaou told 9News .com.au.

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“I have a business page that I run advertisements through.

“I have invested money for my following, and now it’s gone – out of nowhere.”

After his accounts were hacked, Mr Nicolaou said he had also been hit with about A$1800 in charges made to the bank account linked to his Facebook business page.

“There were charges; charges after charges. They started at about $100 each and then kept getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

“What frustrated me the most is that there is no acknowledgement from Facebook. There is no-one to call at Facebook and say you have got fraudulent charges.

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“I have literally tried everything but it is robots you are talking to.

“The way I feel is this is actually fraud. I can’t talk to a human who wants to help me but they are happy to take my money just fine.”

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When contacted by 9news.com.au, Meta Australia spokesperson Antonia Sanda said its investigations team was working to restore both Ms McTaggart’s and Mr Nicolaou’s accounts.

“We want to keep suspicious activity off our platform and protect people’s accounts, and are working to restore these accounts to the rightful owners,” she said.

“Online phishing techniques are not unique to Facebook, however we’re making significant investments in technology to protect the security of people’s accounts.

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“We strongly encourage people to strengthen their online security by turning on app-based two-factor authentication and alerts for unrecognised logins.”

Tips to stop your Facebook page getting hacked

  • Take action and report an account: People can always report an account, an ad, or a post that they feel is suspicious.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links: Don’t trust messages demanding money, offering gifts or threatening to delete or ban your account (or verifying your account on Instagram). To help you identify phishing and spam emails, you can view official emails sent from your settings within the app.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links from Meta/Facebook/Instagram: If you get a suspicious email or message or see a post claiming to be from Facebook, don’t click any links or attachments. If the link is suspicious, you’ll see the name or URL at the top of the page in red with a red triangle.
  • Don’t respond to these messages/ emails: Don’t answer messages asking for your password, social security number, or credit card information.
  • Avoid phishing: If you accidentally entered your username or password into a strange link, someone else might be able to log in to your account. Change your password regularly and don’t use the same passwords for everything.
  • Get alerts: Turn on two-factor authentication for additional account security.
  • Use extra security features: Get alerts about unrecognised logins and turn on two-factor authentication to increase your account security.
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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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