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Critical update: Facebook Messenger users hit by scammers in over 80 states

by ESPC Reporters
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April 20, 2021 — Group-IB, a global threat hunting and adversary-centric cyber intelligence company that specializes in investigating and preventing hi-tech cybercrimes, has detected a large-scale scam campaign targeting Facebook Messenger users all over the world. Group-IB Digital Risk Protection (DRP) analysts have found evidence proving that users in over 80 countries in Europe, Asia, the MEA region, North and South America might have been affected. By distributing ads promoting an allegedly updated version of Facebook Messenger, cybercriminals harvested users’ login credentials. Group-IB’s DRP analysts have discovered nearly 1,000 fake Facebook profiles employed in the scheme. Upon the discovery of this type of fraud, Group-IB informed the social network, which has nothing to do with the fake posts, of the ongoing campaign.

It is noteworthy that this scam first came into the spotlight of Group-IB DRP in the summer of 2020, with DRP analysts based in different regions — Asia and Europe — having detected traces of the same fraudulent campaign. Since then it has been growing progressively in scope. In April, the number of Facebook posts inviting users to install “the latest Messenger update” reached 5,700. To draw users’ attention, fraudsters registered accounts with the names mimicking the real app — Messanger, Meseenger, Masssengar, and etc. — and used Facebook Messenger official logo as their profile picture.

Image 1 Facebook ad promoting a Facebook Messenger update

To facilitate the moderation process in Facebook and bypass its scam filters, scammers used shortened links created with the help of such services as linktr.ee, bit.ly, cutt.us, cutt.ly, and rb.gy. After clicking on the link that is supposed to lead to the download of the app’s updated version, the user finds themselves on a fake Facebook Messenger website with a login form, where they’re asked to enter their credentials. Scammers used such platforms as blogspot.com, sites.google.com, github.io, and godaddysites.com to register fake Facebook Messenger login pages.

In order to excite users and make them follow the link, scammers endowed the app with some non-existent features like the possibility to find out who visited one’s profile and see the messages that were deleted or even offered to shift to Gold Messenger. Scammers even used blackmailing to force users into downloading the app and pressured the latter with threats that if they didn’t sign up on the fake page, their account would be banned forever.

Group-IB’s DRP analysts have found scam ads targeted at users in at least 84 countries worldwide, including Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Africa. Users who fell victim to this scheme risk leaking their personal data and have their account hijacked. Scammers, in turn, are likely to use the compromised account to either blackmail the victim, pushing them to pay a ransom to have access to their account restored, or further scale up the scheme using the Facebook profile to distribute scam ads.

Group-IB calls on users to stay vigilant and follow some basic cyber hygiene rules that will help avoid getting into cybercriminals’ trap. One should always be cautious while following shortened links and raise a red flag if it leads to a poll or one-page blog. Never enter any personal data on websites to which you got from third-party resources even if they have logos of well-known brands. Enter your login credentials only on social network/service official website or official app. It is also worth paying attention to the domain of the page you visit — fraudsters often register domain names misspelling brand names, as it was the case with Facebook Messenger.

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