Imposters are cloning New Zealanders' Facebook profiles and winning over their friends before trying to con them out of money.
Nelson entrepreneur Marg Hobson was horrified to find her profile cloned on Friday a week ago by a parasitic fraudster. The con artist downloaded Hobson's profile picture and copied her name. The imposter started adding Hobson's friends to the copycat account. About 40 accepted the offer.
"It's scary how easy it was for someone to do it," Hobson said. Apart from the invasion of privacy, Hobson was embarrassed and upset for her friends.
The impersonator quickly started engaging Hobson's friends in private messages.
The scammer's messages mostly promoted a fake lottery racket. "I won the sum of $90,000.00 cash from Facebook World Lottery," one message said.
Other scammers were understood to use Facebook to probe users for potential password information, such as mothers' maiden names and pet names.
Hobson said her scammer cast a wide net and needed just one gullible friend to make the elaborate con worthwhile. "I suppose they figure somewhere along the line they might just get an idiot."
The messages reminded one of Hobson's friends of the Nigerian 419 or advance-fee scams. The friend confronted the scammer and alerted Hobson to the fake account. Hobson spent most of last Saturday trying to alert the rest of her friends and Facebook managers to the fraudulent account. She was disappointed to have had no feedback from Facebook administrators - the imposter was still online a week after setting up the account.
The country's top internet safety expert said such cases were becoming rife and warned all Facebook users to be vigilant. Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said social media was a "high-trust environment" so scammers who won over a Facebook user's friends could be more effective - and damaging - than old-style spammers.
Hobson said Facebook imposters could use their new profiles for even more malicious purposes.
In 2010, a 33-year-old serial sex offender used a handsome teenager's persona to ensnare and murder 17-year-old English girl Ashleigh Hall.
Last year, the BBC reported on claims the Taleban used pictures of pretty women to befriend coalition troops in Afghanistan and extract information from them. Facebook has a series of tips on its website for users concerned about security.