Jane Johnson became a victim of a malicious Facebook scam and sought assistance from the police. The 49-year-old mother contacted the Action Fraud hotline operated by the City of London Police.
She reported that hackers had gained unauthorized access to her Facebook account and were making unauthorized credit card transactions.
The Action Fraud representative treated her case as a crime, informed her about the assignment of a case manager within 28 days, and offered unexpected guidance.
Formerly employed in the financial district, Jane received counsel to compose a strongly worded complaint addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire CEO of Meta, the company that oversees Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Jane was informed by the Action Fraud call handler that law enforcement was facing mounting challenges in addressing the surge of social media scams reported by victims.
She was left with the impression that it could be beneficial if victims inundated Mr. Zuckerberg with letters, containing threats to report him to regulators if necessary, as a way to prompt action against these scams.
According to Jane, the call handler then assisted her in composing a letter to the billionaire head of Meta, tailored to her specific situation. She noted that the call handler appeared to have a predefined template for the letter in mind.
In her message addressed to Mr. Zuckerberg, as reviewed by Money Mail, Jane’s letter reads:
‘I know Meta has a duty of care to protect users from fraud. I have been trying to contact someone at Facebook for nearly three days now but had no luck.
‘It is impossible to contact Meta without any way of logging in. If your account has been hacked and the criminals have blocked you from gaining all access, there is no way to reach you.
‘If you do not deal with this urgently I shall be left with no alternative but to report this to the regulator, Ofcom and the financial ombudsman as there has been a financial loss to my business. There was also a data breach which I shall be reporting to the ICO if no action is taken by Meta.’
However, Jane ultimately decided not to send the letter. She held the belief that the letter was unlikely to ever reach the Meta boss and, as a result, would have no impact on her situation or the broader fight against fraudulent activities.
When Money Mail reached out to Action Fraud for clarification, the organization stated that advising individuals to write letters to specific individuals was not part of its policy. Instead, its staff adheres to standard operating procedures.
Jane’s ordeal began on July 30 when she woke up at her residence in Richmond upon Thames and realized that her Facebook account had been compromised. The initial indication of trouble came through a notification from her Starling banking app, which alerted her to unauthorized transactions on her credit card.
Jane manages an online business named “Careering into Motherhood,” which assists working mothers in accessing a supportive network of coaches. This community, with around 11,000 members, operates through a Facebook group page.
Subsequently, she uncovered that cybercriminals had infiltrated her Facebook account and utilized her credit card information, stored within her account, to pay for online advertisements promoting services such as online gambling and Halloween costumes.
The scammers had initially charged a mere £1 to Jane’s credit card, yet they had also established a payment scheme that had the potential to accumulate charges of up to £5,000 per day for the posted advertisements.
Jane speaks highly of her bank, Starling, which promptly froze her credit card, preventing substantial financial losses. However, her experience with Facebook was frustrating. She found it exceedingly difficult to contact anyone at Meta, especially since she was locked out of her account.
Given that the fraudulent ads were appearing on her account, Jane was concerned about the potential damage to her reputation and the progress she had achieved.
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to reach out to Facebook, Jane utilized her connections to eventually communicate with a representative from the social media company. This enabled her to regain control of her account and remove the malicious content. Subsequently, she contacted Action Fraud to officially report the incident.
Jane recalls her conversation with an Action Fraud representative, stating, ‘The woman on the phone at Action Fraud was very sympathetic and suggested I Google Mark Zuckerberg’s office email address. I thought it was a bit far-fetched.’
Money Mail’s “Stop the Social Media Scammers” campaign is urging technology giants to take accountability for fraud occurring on their platforms and to share the burden of compensating victims.
Law enforcement has faced significant challenges in dealing with the rise of social media scams in recent years.
Recent revelations indicate that up to 1.1 million individuals annually fall victim to scams originating from social media platforms.
In September of the previous year, the House of Commons Justice Committee cautioned that only a small portion (2%) of police funding is allocated to combat fraud, despite fraud accounting for 41% of reported crimes in England and Wales.
Traditionally, fraud victims have been directed to report their cases to Action Fraud. The center is set to undergo an overhaul in 2024 following the government’s acknowledgment in January that the support available for fraud victims is inconsistent and inadequately resourced to meet the increasing challenges posed by fraud.
The government has committed to allocating £30 million to the City of London Police over the next three years to enhance services for victims.
Pauline Smith, the Head of Action Fraud, emphasized that advising individuals to write letters to specific individuals is not aligned with the policies of Action Fraud and the National Economic Crime Victim Care Unit. She encouraged victims of fraud or cybercrime to report incidents to Action Fraud online or by phone and suggested that those in Scotland contact Police Scotland. Additionally, if money has been lost due to fraud, it is essential to promptly notify your bank.