Months back, someone I used to work with ages ago started a chat via Messenger. I was touched he remembered to reach out until it turned into an appeal to borrow money. Long story short, I loaned him half the money he asked for, but only after confirming it is the same person and that I will be paid.
Fast forward to last week and there was another message, this time from a family member, that didn’t seem quite right. He’s from my husband’s side of the family, and while we would talk in person, we never spoke online.
Again, after a couple of hellos, he asked for money. I remember thinking why would he come to me? And why would he chat instead of call? I wanted to shoot him down right away but decided to seen zone the message until I can talk to my husband about it.
My delaying tactic turned out to be a good thing as another family member sent money and watched it all disappear in minutes. We later found out that the guy messaging us was not our family member – but a hacker who accessed his Facebook and Messenger. And this hacker acted fast, faster than the account owner could find out that he had been hacked and to be able to warn family and friends.
If you ever get a message asking for help or money or both, here are some tips on how to respond.
#1 Slow ‘em down
All fraudulent appeals are urgent – because they want you to act first and think second. They will use all sorts of tricks. Maybe they’ll say someone has been in an accident, or they are stranded somewhere, or they need cash to get out of a sticky situation. But remember, just because it’s urgent for them it does not mean it is also urgent for you. After all, if it was really important, why isn’t he calling his wife or partner or parents? Why you whom he probably hasn’t talked to in months or years?
#2 Expose your “hacker”
Ask questions to check into the identity of the person on the other side of the chat. Something as simple as “are you still living in Davao?” when you know he is based in Cebu. Or try to ask about something that won’t be in his Facebook feed, which the hacker may have already read, like “were you able to sell your car” and then add the wrong type of car. If you are talking to a hacker, the more questions you ask, the more likely he will give up and move on to target another victim.
#3 Switch the chat to mobile, or another account
Another way to smoke out a hacker is to tell them you would call “their” mobile number instead. After all, really urgent matters should be discussed over the phone, not just via chat. And since the mobile number you have saved on your phone is likely of the real account owner, and hopefully still with him, expect the hacker to retreat quickly, or try to keep you in the same chat with some excuse like he left the phone in the car, at home or lost it too!
#4 Don’t just say yes
If the person on the other side of the chat asked for P20,000, don’t just say yes. Still not sure if it’s the real person or a hacker? Then haggle and say you don’t have that much money. But you can try and send maybe half or much less. It will hurt less to lose P5,000 than P20,000. But then again, it is better not to lose anything at all by making sure you are sending help to the right person. And let’s admit, even if it is the real person, don’t just hand out cash unless you know you will get it back.
#5 Follow the money
If you do decide to send money to help out your family member or friend, because you have reason to believe this is a legitimate request, make sure to get as much information as you can. From our sorry experience, the hacker gave the bank account name and number of someone who we do not personally know. That should have been a red flag, but he explained via chat that this is the account of the person that needs to be paid immediately. If it was our family member’s account, I would have likely sent help, but definitely not to a stranger’s account. Sadly, our other relative fell for the trick.
Final warning: Bank secrecy laws and Instapay can’t and won’t help you
If you did send money and later realized it was a hoax, two things will stop you from getting it back. The first is the bank secrecy law, which will not allow banks to disclose the personal information of their depositors unless there is a court order. If you are thinking to reverse the transaction, the second roadblock is Instapay (assuming you did a bank transfer). The terms and conditions for Instapay are pretty clear that you are responsible for any loss arising from the transaction, so you can’t just say that you meant to send to another account.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.