Social media is a popular and effective tool for theft victims to inform the broader community of stolen and missing assets. With hundreds of social media groups and pages in Australia dedicated to reporting theft, users can reach a large audience of good-standing members of the community and other like-minded victims who keep a look out for and report information that can assist in finding and recovering stolen assets.
However, users need to be aware not all members on these social media sites are there to help. Criminals are also known to exploit these pages and now, unfortunately, unscrupulous overseas scammers have found a new way to defraud by targeting theft victims and seeking payment for non-existent recovery services.
Using fake profiles and typically acting as a former theft victims themselves, the scammers comment on theft victims’ posts on Facebook, or message the victim directly, encouraging them to contact Instagram pages, which offer “property recovery services”.
Bob (name changed) a recent victim of bike theft who posted on social media, shared his contact with a fake ‘’Good Samaritan’’ scammer on Facebook, which resulted in him being scammed for $200 from @guz_tech on Instagram.
To expose the scammer's methods, PropertyVAULT contacted three suspected scammers via their Instagram accounts posing as a recent victim of motorbike theft. Each of these contacts led to a back-and-forth Instagram exchange and in one case multiple telephone conversations that confirmed our suspicions.
While each of the following scammers had a slightly different spiel of how they were supposedly able to track and recover our non-existent stolen bike, they all had one goal - to get us to pay an up-front fee for their service.
#AutoFleet2’s claim was probably the most fanciful. By scanning our motorbike’s number plate or VIN number, he would then be able to visualize the location of our bike and fit a GPS unit that would enable it to be tracked. To undertake this impossible installation on our missing motorbike, #AutoFleet2 required a payment of $150 upfront and a further $150 after recovery.
#Darkemperior4202 claimed to be a hacking expert. For $100 we could purchase an ‘’ID reset code’’ which would allow #Darkemperior4202 to gain access to our motorbike and recover it within an hour. He claimed to have conducted a test on his server that verified the bike could be successfully recovered. To support his claims, he sent us a series of photographs showing two hooded males next to a motorbike that he purported to be his agents who had just made a successful recovery. An online search quickly revealed that the images had been posted by a victim of a motorbike theft in the UK when his motorbike had been stolen by the men in the photo.
LEVI DUNCAN #GEARHEAD_HACKER
Levi Duncan aka #Gearhead_Hacker shows an impressive 4,800 followers on his Instagram account. We suspect most of these will be falsified to give his account credibility.
Levi put forward an impressive story detailing how he could recover our non-existent motorbike. Armed with its registration number and the exact time and location of the theft, Levi could undertake a ‘’surveillance system hack’’ that would access surrounding CCT cameras near the theft to obtain “footage sightings.” This would enable him to ‘’follow the trend footages” that would identify the current location of our bike.
Acting on the fictitious location we provided, but without an alleged time and date, Levi supposedly ran a check on his system and quickly came back to us with Google images of the location and confirmation that our bike was trackable and in fact had been identified as being used in the previous 2 hours.
Levi then shared a video clip and advised that by using facial recognition technology shown in the video, he had identified the criminal that stole our bike was named “Frank Williams” and that he had him under surveillance.
Having provided the identity of the thief but before divulging the location of our stolen motorbike Levi requested a $100 payment which could be made via a Crypto website, Paypal, or the Zelle Cash App in order to proceed further.
While we enjoyed wasting Levi’s time and hopefully diverting his attention away from real victims, we declined to make payment.
Identifying these scammers is fairly simple when you know what to look for. The most obvious red flag is being referred to a person or organisation via an Instagram page. Always treat any unsolicited claim that your stolen property can be located via tracking or hacking as a potential scam. Always check the online profile of any person or organisation you are considering contacting. Most scam accounts tend to show they are newly set up with few or no visible public posts, and the comments and likes that do appear tend to be from overseas profiles.
Whilst there are many reputable companies that supply vehicle and other property tracking technologies, these devices have to be fitted prior to the property being stolen. Property cannot be “tracked” or “hacked” after it is stolen without utilising a pre-fitted technology.
Unfortunately, there is currently no blanket method to stop the fake scammer accounts on social media. Whilst the active Admins on most Facebook dedicated crime pages try to stop scammers from joining, many still slip through. If you spot a suspicious profile on one of these pages, first notify Facebook by clicking on the 3 dots next to the suspicious comment and then select report comment and choose False Information as the reason. Next, notify the group admins via the link and chose Fake News. The admins are able to delete and block the account.
If you have been a victim or been approached by one of these scammers it can be reported to Scamwatch at www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam
While we support, use, and advocate social media as a means of sharing stolen property information, victims and users need to be careful when posting online that they are not disclosing detail that criminals can use to avoid detection.
Many potential recovery opportunities have been lost, when suspected sightings have been publicly disclosed and victims share too much identification information publicly, informing the criminals on what to remove and alter to de-identify their stolen asset.
Unfortunately, contrary to the scammers’ claims, there are no magic bullets to recovering stolen property and most often recovery is a waiting game.
PropertyVAULT provides a completely free comprehensive registration and stolen report portal for assets including pets vulnerable to theft.
The website designed and operated by experienced former police in asset tracing and recovery techniques only discloses sufficient property photos and details publicly when an asset is reported stolen, to allow it to be publicly searched and identified.
When a report of a potential match is received the PropertyVAULT team confidentially confirms the match and then instigates its victim support service to assist both the owner and police to recover the asset.
Protect your assets vulnerable to theft by locking them in your personal VAULT. Sign up for your free PropertyVAULT account and then select the ADD TO VAULT button to begin.