BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - A simple Facebook message from a long lost relative isn't always what it seems. One Bossier City man learned that the hard way. Jim Merryman and his wife were excited when they heard from their nephew through a Facebook message online.
"We hadn't heard from him in a while and it was good to hear from him," said Merryman, about reconnecting with his relative. "Maybe he was bored and he got on the computer and tried to contact family members to see how everybody was doing."
A few minutes into the conversation Merryman said something turned strange. His nephew started talking about how Merryman could cash in on free money. His nephew said he received $150,000 from the federal government. That's when messages started prompting Merryman to friend request a person by the name of Joe Biola on Facebook and Biola would put Merryman on the list of people who would receive $150,000.
Merryman requested the man's friendship but quickly realized it was not his nephew behind the Facebook messages and he was the target of a scam.
KSLA News 12 checked to see if we could track down Joe Biola. When we typed in his Facebook address the page had disappeared.
With more than 1 billion Facebook users worldwide, Merryman, like many others, used Facebook to reconnect with family and friends across the globe. But these messages had him worried. Merryman took pictures of his conversation he had with the man posing as his nephew.
"The reason I contacted KSLA is because I feel like people should know something about this so that they don't fall prey to it. Especially old retired people like me."
Detective Chris Davis has been with the Financial Crimes Task Force at the Bossier City Police Department for the last year and a half. He said people like Merryman are exactly who con-artists prey on. They are older and retired. Davis said social media crime is on the rise.
"It's very easy to fake Facebook. You can pull a picture from anywhere and put it on there and create a name and you're on Facebook. You're anybody you want to be."
KSLA asked Davis how someone gets a picture of a person's relative.
"If you found a person and you went through their photos, that would be one way I think."
Davis said the majority of these con-artists are not from the Shreveport-Bossier area, but instead from overseas. Catching criminals like these are difficult because there's little the authorities can do about it.
Luckily for Merryman, he only gave out his full name and didn't provide any person information.
"We went through the process of scanning our computers. We changed passwords to our bank accounts. I deleted any software that was on the computer and on the cell phone. And I talked our nephew through the process so he could do the same thing.
"It's kind of scary that people will try to invade your privacy, steal your identity, take your money, whatever they can get from you. It's really scary.
"I'm contemplating not using Facebook very much anymore. I just hope that nothing comes of this."
Davis said it's very important to look at your privacy settings on Facebook and other social media sites. He suggests you make sure that all of your pictures and information are private and not viewable by the public. He also suggests that if you accept a request from a friend you haven't heard from in a while that you message them and ask them a personal question that only they would know the answer to so you will know if they are real or fake.
The National Cyber Security Alliance and the Better Business Bureau recommend you do some digital Spring cleaning. They suggest updating computer security software, strengthening your passwords and use a passcode on your phone for extra security.
They also recommend cleaning out old emails or any other pictures and messages online. They say delete unused apps on your smartphones as well.