Michelle Singletary: Watch out for social media scams

By Michelle Singletary, Published: October 18, 2011

Your social media account on Twitter or Facebook may have connected you to a forgotten classmate or sweetheart, but it can also lead you straight into the hands of a predator.

All this Internet openness has made it much easier for people to be

preyed upon by con artists who specialize in affinity fraud, using

someone’s connection to certain groups to gain their trust and

ultimately their life savings.

More On This Topic ➡ Affinity Scams

The North American Securities Administrators Association


recently warned investors to look out for shady investment deals

pitched by people they connect with on social networking sites.

        • State security regulators warn that con artists are using the information you post to make highly targeted pitches within your social group.
        • “We issued the warning because we had more and more people calling in saying they had lost money over the Internet,” said Jack E. Herstein, NASAA’s president.
        • For years, con artists have found victims through offline social networks such as faith-based, civic, community and professional groups.
        • They join the groups and ingratiate themselves, making connections in person. This takes time and you have to come face-to-face with your victims.
        • Online fraudsters can target more people in less time and never have to travel. Last year, Maine’s security regulator issued a cease-and-desist order for an online investment scam operating on the island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The scam targeted people participating on chat sites popular within the deaf community.

However you get pitched an investment,

here are some red flags to watch out for, according to NASAA:

●An investment that is supposedly low risk with a high return.

Just remember: Risk and reward are equal partners. If the risk is low, the return is low. If the risk is high, the return is potentially high. If anyone is promising a low-risk investment with a return that is far above recent average returns, you are probably about to be scammed.

●Someone says he’s got an investment opportunity

with foreign operations.

Many people don’t even bother to check out an investment opportunity with stateside operations, so how can you really check out the legitimacy of a foreign operation? You usually can’t.

●If you’re being offered a bonus to sign friends up

for an investment deal, use caution.

●Con artists will tell you to go to a Web site to get more information. 

But when you do, there’s little concrete information.

This should be a gigantic red flag.

My 11-year-old can create a Web site. Even if a site looks professional, click away from it if it offers little or no information about the company or details about the investment, NASAA says.

●If an investment promoter won’t give you written information, walk away from the deal. With a legitimate investment opportunity you’ll get a prospectus or other written information detailing the risks of the investment and procedures to get your money out.

Whether online or offline, if you take the following steps you can better protect yourself from an investment scam:

1. Make at least one telephone call. 

“A simple phone call to your state securities regulator will save you a lot of money and headaches down the road,” Herstein said. “Find out if the security and the person selling it is licensed in your state.” You can find your regulator at

2. Adjust your privacy settings to limit publicly accessible personal information.

It’s so much easier for sleazy promoters to comb through online profiles taking note of people’s personal interests, home towns, schools, likes and dislikes to lure victims into a scam, regulators say.

3. Search online for information about the investment being offered. 

If there are few results, or their name doesn’t appear anywhere outside of the one investment program they’re offering you, that’s a warning sign that they may be using multiple aliases, or hiding behind a fake identity, according to NASAA.

4. Don’t just trust a testimonial or go on the word of a friend. 

A recent national study of Ponzi schemes found that nearly one in four of the scams involve the use of affinity groups, which helped the con’s credibility.

The most common affinity groups targeted were elderly, retired and religious groups,

according to the study conducted by Marquet International, a security consulting firm. 

I once went to an investment seminar and when I kept questioning the promoter she got angry and said:

“Would your friend introduce you to anything that is crazy?” Yes, if she didn’t do her due diligence.

Just keep in mind that by sharing small details of your life, you are making yourself more vulnerable.


Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is Questions are welcomed, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible.


More On This Topic ➡ Affinity Scams

METABANK enlists a partner company with promises of quick financial gain and a better way to get money or income.

“If you’re being offered a bonus to sign friends up for an investment deal, use caution.” according to Singletary’s report, and yet this is how METABANK gets the partner company’s employees to push their prepaid card. The employee says that the card has worked very well for them, and it has!! That employee has been fed a line and they have fallen for it. Their bonus is negligible compared with the scam they are being encouraged to push off onto their community.

The friends and family of the partner company employee, along with their customers, may get a prepaid card that looks a lot like their own card, but the numbers on the cards promoted by the partner company’s employee are in a different series. They even have different contact phone numbers. Meta Bank reprimanded me for asking the branch manager for help and because she had phoned that other number where they are polite. Customers, on the other hand, phone a number where they are put on hold and shifted from  one METABANK representative to another.  Meta Bank representatives push blame for what happened  to the customer using the card back onto the customer and lie, blatantly lie.

●An investment that is supposedly low risk with a high return.

In the case of META BANK/META PAYMENT SYSTEMS, promises are made that are specifically directed at a targeted population that indicate the META BANK PREPAID BANK CARD will resolve that problem.

This is only publicity and marketing, and META BANK has excelled in this area. However, the product that is being offered is only a gimmick gto get customer’s to hand over their hard earned money for META BANK to earn free of interest income using the customer’s money. In return, the customer is lied to and denied access to their own money because they have signed onto META BANK’s prepaid card program.


Meta Bank already has full access to the consumer’s money for an undetermined, but extended period of time, and then META BANK gets greedy for more.

This is where META BANK and any bank who operate using the same practices as META BANK took an okay idea and have abused that idea.

In the fine print, META BANK has retained the right to change the terms of the agreement at anytime without warning. META BANK not only retains this right, but puts it into action when and where needed to push the limits of the PREPAID BANK CARD to their gain and advantage.

In this way, META BANK has basically been “shooting themselves and their partner company in the foot,” as the saying goes. The consumer’s confidence in META BANK and more importantly in the partner company is lost forever.

Since META BANK uses many names for their PREPAID CARDS, META BANK simply moves on to repeat the same scam over and over.

In the long run, the partner company loses the good faith of long term customers, who feel betrayed.

Feeling Betrayed is a powerful emotion, and it appears that many Americans (and perhaps the global community) have also been scammed in a similar manner.  

All that is left for us to do is to forewarn others so that what happened to us will not happen to them.

I pity any and all of METABANK’s partner companies because they have been used as pawns in this scam. However, those partner companies simply haven’t studied the potential situation for the negative impact that it will have on their situation. Most likely, META BANK has painted a picture of great success. Even customer testimonials that META BANK has posted on their own website are nothing but publicity; they are not genuine appraisals of META BANK’s customer service which has been consistently deplorable.

Consumers must find ways to become educated

with accurate and clear information.

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