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Scammers used my stolen identity (name and photo) to scam using Messenger, but Facebook disabled my authentic profile.

Feb 13, 2020
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Hello All,
I hope that someone has info/tips how to help the situation. A little bit of background:
Aside from my day corporate job, I am also a vacation home rental owner (small business), my properties are listed on Airbnb, Vrbo, Tripadvisor as well as my own website and Facebook pages, with several years of great reviews. I am (or was) also active participant of Facebook groups dedicated to Vacation rentals (such as connecting owners and potential guests), as well as Moderator or Admin of several of such groups. People can join such groups to either a) post "ISO" (in search of) posts when they are looking for a vacation rental or b) owners can reply offering their properties for rent and c) just looking for the area travel tips and info.
In my role as Admin or Moderator, I constantly warned new members to be careful of scammers (more on that below).

Some people may know that a lot of vacation rental scams (used to) happen on Craigslist (i.e scammers post ads for properties that do not belong to them using stolen photos, usually offering too-good-to-be-true low rate and try to get scam victims to pay them either by wire, money order or Paypal Friends and family). What you may not know is that now scammers have moved on to Facebook and scam via Facebook messenger, impersonating someone else. Here is how it usually works:
  • one scammer (let's call him Scammer A) would join a Facebook group and just look for Travelers who post "I am looking for a 3 bd house in XYZ" posts. This Scammer A (we call them "scouts") will NOT contact the Traveler, but give the information about the Traveler to another scammer (Scammer B);
  • Scammer B would copy a photo and name of a known reputable person/business owner (let's call him John Owner). Having Facebook profile is not required - scammers can use Facebook messenger (without profile attached) with only a phone, and even Google Voice virtual number at that; Can we say Identity Theft?
  • Scammer B would then direct-message the traveler, pretending to be John Owner, sending the Traveler some appealing photos of a random property stolen from a listing and offering the "rate" that is usually much cheaper (like 1/2) of a realistic rate for vacation property of that size and in that season; and try to get Traveler to pay the Scammer B via Paypal Family and Friends (and sometimes money order, wire etc);
  • next, one of the two things happen: a) The Traveler detects a scam; b) Traveler gets scammed and sends money, only to be blocked on Messenger by the scammer after money is paid.
  • In either case, what does the Traveler do? That's right, Traveler goes to "search" on Facebook, enters "John Owner" in the search window, and finds the REAL "John Owner" (same photo and name) who had absolutely nothing to do with the scam; The upset traveler reports the REAL "John Owner" to Facebook.
  • Facebook, after a few such reports, shuts down John Owner's account (who, of course, did nothing wrong!).
  • Scammer(s) still operates using Messenger, using MY photo and name, and ruining my hard earned solid reputation; scammers are almost impossible to detect and report as they can change name and photo attached to messenger at will (again, there is no Facebook profile attached to it).
  • We (the Admins and Moderators of vacation rental groups) also suspect that at times the scammers "gang up" and report real "John Owner's" profile to Facebook just to get it restricted or shut down, so that real person cannot impede their scamming.
  • Quite a sophisticated operation, is it not?
The reason I went through trouble of explaining all this is I have all the reasons to believe that Facebook shut down my profile that was around since 2010 due to scammer activity, but they shut the WRONG person down. I am that "John Owner".
  • On Nov 28 2019 Facebook restricted account (I could not even log in) giving me a message that I should "slow down". When I tried to submit an Appeal, it would say that "this email does not belong to a disabled account. you can only appeal a disabled account";
  • Two weeks later, it required me to go through verification process as part of login, and required me to submit a selfie. The moment I uploaded the selfie, account went into "disabled" status. I though " ok, maybe now I can just submit an appeal, send my ID, and they will restore my profile". But no.
  • To my knowledge, scammer(s) still operate using my name and photo (have screen caps and my spouse was able to message the scammer and scammer ADMITTED that they knew we were the real owners of the property right in the Messenger chat - have screen caps to prove).
  • My profile was the only one attached as Admin to our Facebook Business page; So when Facebook disabled my profile, bsuiness page was shut down too. I had to go through the process of adding the spouse as Admin via sending notorized letter copy of spouse's ID to Facebook Advertising support (before you ask - they won't do anything abot disabled profiles);
I have since submitted multiple appeals to Facebook including copy of my drivers license as required; no response (not even an automated email). I have downloaded my "profile information" and went through it with fine tooth comb, looking for anything that could have triggered Facebook bots to inflict such severe punishment and found nothing of sorts. Being a middle aged married IT professional (and vacation rental home owner on the side), active in animal rescue causes, interested in log cabins, furniture making, decor and all things vacation rentals, I do not know what is so "suspicious" about my profile that would warranbd the shut down.

I do have screen caps of scammers messaging people pretending to be me, but since they contain my real name and photo (copied from my now-shuttered profile), I am reluctant to post publicly (can provide privately).

I am also a member of "Say No to VRBO Service fee " Facebook group of vacation rental owners and managers, many of them know me personally an can vouch for my authenticity and that I am NOT a scammer.

Thank you in advance for any advice you can provide.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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San Francisco
You have my sympathy. All the social media stuff has been so wonderful for so many people doing so many things. Everyone thought that their ability to accomplish so many goals was unlimited. Kids grew into adults and never gave a thought to exactly what was going on with social media; it was part of their lives. Everyone forgot that social media is a wide-open portal for the bad as well as the good. Everyone forgot that social media sites exist to sell ads. Their customer is the entity buying ads. They don't have much to give to the people who use their sites without charge.

There's little doubt in my mind that in a couple more years, nobody will be able to use social media for anything than what it was set up to do in the first place ... allow people to connect with their friends and families more often and much more easily than in the past. There's nothing there for hackers and scammers, so they'll go elsewhere to cheat people. If something is free, it's open to everyone; therein lies the problem. If it's free, you don't want to count on it.
 
Feb 13, 2020
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We have many posts about Facebook disabling accounts. They don’t reply to us so all we can advise you it to use our company contacts.
Thank you. actually an Admin of a 7000 member group contacted them on my behalf, using your contact list, outlining the situation. So far no response, imagine that. I do think that my case exemplifies a bigger issue: the rampant identity theft that FB allows to go on unimpeded. Interestingly enough they require the ID from us, longstanding members. But scammers roam free (using messenger) and no ID of any kind is needed. When my spouse reported scammer's profile on messenger.. guess what.. FB response was that it "does not violate community standards". I guess sharing a photo of cute puppy or a kitten one too many times "violates community standards"(and you can be put in FB jail for that), but scamming people does not. I find this unwillingness to separate the wheat from chaff puzzling if not malicious. On top of that, FB makes it as difficult as possible for group Admins to weed the scammers out (it is well know that certain countries produce bulk of scammers) - Admin cannot filter group membership by country to review and vet profiles.
The screen cap below (one of many) was provided to a co-Admin of the group by a potential scam victim. I removed photos s they were stolenSCAM MESSAGE screen.png from my legit profile. Scammer was pretending to be ME and trying to get a victim to send them money,.