Huntsville resident Patricia Friend accepted a Facebook friend request in late January from someone named “Stephanie” she believed to be the daughter of a recently deceased friend. When she received the request, she thought it was a nice gesture from someone whose mother she had worked with for two decades.
The request was accepted and not much came out of the interaction until Feb. 4 when she was once again contacted by this person. Now the contact said she had won money and Friend had also won some money. The victim was encouraged to contact someone going by the name “James Phipps” on Facebook who was supposedly the founder of the group handing out the prize.
After contacting him through Facebook messenger, they first requested a string of personal information, reportedly to ensure they were giving the money to the correct person.
That made Friend suspicious, and she contacted “Stephanie” who assured her it was legit.
“They wanted me to go to Walmart and get $500 worth of iTunes cards as a processing fee and I was reluctant. So I got a hold of Steph again and said ‘this is crazy. Is this true?’ and she said ‘yeah, trust me.’ So I go to Walmart and get $500 worth of iTunes and sent it to them,” said Friend.
The cards were sent by removing the stickers that covered the code and snap a picture of the card. She had never before purchased an iTunes card.
The friend quickly believed she had been targeted by a scam, but the individual persisted.
“I realized it was fraudulent afterward and confronted them. They said ‘no it’s legit’ and they kept saying two of the cards weren’t activated and they wanted me to go back to Walmart and buy two more,” Friend said.
She swiftly contacted the police, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and Apple about the scam. Apple said the cards had already been spent.
Despite Friend contacting the authorities, and telling the man over Facebook she knew he was a scammer, he persisted. Repeated messenger calls and messages followed insisting he was honest and she should go to Walmart and buy the two other iTunes cards.
While writing this article on Feb. 5, Friend contacted the Forester saying he was still messaging her.
“All I want Is to make sure they don’t do this to anyone again. It’s about letting people know,” said Friend. “Usually, I’m very smart. I don’t fall for crap like that.”
The authorities told Friend this was a fairly common scam and it was likely run by a sophisticated gang.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre lists this type of scheme as a “prize scam.” In these scams, an individual is told they have won a prize and then must pay some sort of upfront fee before the winnings can be received.
Recently, scammers requesting payment through iTunes cards have been on the rise. In December of last year, the fraud centre issued a release specifically stating no legitimate organization will ever request payment via iTunes gift cards.
After speaking with some people, Friend established “Stephanie” was not in fact the person she thought she was. She believes the assumption about the false identity of “Stephanie” was the key reason she was deceived.
“I’m not friends with just anybody on Facebook. I’m thinking, ‘Oh that’s really nice because I worked with her mother for 20 years and she passed a year ago December from a heart attack.’ I didn’t pay attention to the last name,” said Friend.
Following the experience, she said her main feeling is she’s angry it happened.
Read the original story in the Muskoka Region.