INDIANAPOLIS — A new, elaborate social media scam is emptying bank accounts in Central Indiana.
It’s an investment scam that typically starts on Instagram, but in a new twist, the scammers are forcing their victims to make hostage-style videos.
Yvonne Rodriguez of Indianapolis uses Instagram to keep in touch with friends, and she considers herself fairly savvy when it comes to spotting scams.
“I’ve received messages before, and I’m like ‘uh, I’m not responding to that,’” said Rodriguez.
When she received a friend request from a woman she was already friends with, Rodriguez was skeptical.
“I shared the profile with her and I said ‘is this you?” said Rodriguez. “And the response was like ‘I'm so sorry, someone hacked into my account.’"
The friend shared several videos of herself saying she had invested in Bitcoin with an investor named David and made a huge profit.
“She said it was real and I should invest in him as well,” said Rodriguez. “She also showed me a picture of her legs with stacks of money on her legs.”
Rodriguez reached out to the investor and spoke with him on the phone via WhatsApp.
“He was telling me what to expect, how much to invest, and giving me some sense of peace of mind that I was investing with someone who was real,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez sent the investor $500 who showed her a website reflecting a $5,000 profit.
Here’s where the story takes a turn— the investor held her money hostage, telling Rodriguez that in order to get it, she had to send him a video touting her investment.
“Hey y’all, I just invested in Bitcoin with David,” said Rodriguez in the hostage-style video. “I got a huge return back. It’s real, it’s legit and you should invest with him too.”
Rodriguez never got her money.
And she’s not alone.
Social media was far more profitable to scammers in 2021 than any other method of reaching people.
More than 95,000 people reported about $770 million in losses to fraud initiated on social media platforms in 2021.
According to ABC News, those losses account for about 25% of all reported losses to fraud in 2021 and represent a stunning eighteenfold increase over 2017 reported losses.
Rodriguez realized it was a scam when she started getting threatening phone calls saying she needed to invest more.
“I wasn't comfortable with it,” said Rodriguez. “That's when I started putting two and two together."
As if losing her money wasn’t enough, Rodriguez’s video is now being used to scam others and her Instagram account was flooded with messages from scammers.
“I woke up to 1,000 responses to every one of my pictures, calling me a scammer,” said Rodriguez.
The Better Business Bureau says scammers know you’re on to them, so they’re adding in a layer of trust in the form of videos from your friends to get you to bite.
“Think back to the 90s when you're getting letters from the Nigerian prince and that has changed to the new age of social media,” said Jennifer Adamany, a spokesperson for the BBB Serving Central Indiana. “It will always be evolving and changing. No matter how much you think you're prepared - you have to keep your guard up."
The BBB recommends if you receive a suspicious message, get off social media and call your friend.
“See if they actually got the money they invested,” said Adamany. “Don't go off face value of what you see on social media.”
Some victims of the hostage video scam, like Rodriguez’s friend, have lost their Instagram accounts completely.
Thankfully, Rodriguez changed her passwords in time and made her account private.
"I don't want anybody else to go through this,” said Rodriguez. “This was very personal. It was a message from someone I knew and trusted."
Some of the red flags Rodriguez ignored:
- Not going with her gut
- Her bank refused to send one of the payments saying it was likely fraud
- A promise to get rich quick
- Guaranteed returns or profits
Rodriguez reported the scammers accounts to Instagram multiple times, but many of them still appear to be up and running.
We reached out to Meta, which operates Instagram, to ask what they plan to do about these scam accounts and others.
We are still waiting to hear back.
Tips to stay safe on social media:
- Limit who can see your posts and information on social media. All platforms collect information about you from your activities on social media, but visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions.
- Check if you can opt out of targeted advertising. Some platforms let you do that.
- If you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or an urgent need for money, call them. Their account may have been hacked – especially if they ask you to pay by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.
- If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down. Read about romance scams. And never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Before you buy, check out the company. Search online for its name plus “scam” or “complaint.”