Facebook phishing scams target Indigenous artists' business pages

Dozens of Indigenous artists and businesses across the United States and Canada have been targeted by the same phishing scam on social media in recent weeks. 

Fake accounts are mimicking Indigenous businesses, trying to solicit banking information

A screenshot of the fake Tara Kiwenzie Designs account and message the fraudsters sent to new followers to solicit banking information. (Submitted by Tara Kiwenzie )

Tara Kiwenzie was forced to take a break from beading barrettes over the weekend to warn her customers about a phishing scam she and other Indigenous artists and businesses have found themselves targeted by.

Kiwenzie, who is from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ont., said she was flooded with messages last week asking if she had made a new Facebook account and was holding a giveaway.

She quickly realized someone had made a fake account mimicking her business page, Tara Kiwenzie Designs, and sent friend requests to hundreds of her followers. It was messaging those who accepted the friend request, saying they had won a giveaway, as a way to solicit banking or credit card information.

Tara Kiwenzie is a beader from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ont. (Tara Kiwenzie )

"I'm just starting out, so it sucks that this is happening to me right off the bat," Kiwenzie said.

"It sucks to hear that at least three or four followers had to go and call their banks to get it reversed."

In addition to Kiwenzie, CBC News found dozens of other Indigenous artists and businesses across the United States and Canada had been affected by the same scam in recent weeks. 

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The fake accounts were reported to Facebook, but Kiwenzie and others said they were initially told the accounts did not violate the social media platform's community standards.

As of Tuesday, Facebook said many of the accounts it was made aware of by CBC News had been disabled.

"We've reviewed and disabled multiple fake accounts for impersonation, which goes against our policies," said Meg Sinclair, head of communications at Facebook Canada, in an emailed statement.

"We want Indigenous communities to feel safe doing business on our platforms, and we apologize for not getting this right when it was first reported to us." 

New twist on an old scam

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said this is a new twist on a common phishing scam. It received 754 reports of prize scams last year, with 240 classified as victims and a total reported loss of $3,542,538.63.

In the first two months of 2021, it received 34 reports tied specifically to social media prize scams but none quite like what Indigenous artists and businesses have experienced. 

In addition to notifying the service provider like Facebook, the centre recommends individuals file a report with their local police and as well as with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Carrie Hill, an artist from Akwesasne on the Ontario, Quebec and New York State border, was also affected by the scam. A fake account mimicking her page Chill Baskets issued this message. (Submitted by Carrie Hill)

Concerns about reputation

Tammy Beauvais, a fashion designer in Kahnawake, Que., said she's worried how the scam will affect the reputation of her business. 

"It's dangerous. It's not good for my friends, my customers, my potential customers. It puts distrust in my brand," said Beauvais.

"It's scary for my business because it's hard enough as it is and then this happens. It's going to affect our business and reputation in these already hard times. It's very frustrating, very worrisome, and stressful."

Tammy Beauvais is a fourth generation artisan from Kahnawake, Que.

Like Kiwenzie, she also has spent the last few days warning people that a fake account was created to mimic her business page, Tammy Beauvais Designs.

"I'm trying my best to protect my friends and customers. I don't want them to be scammed; that's the bottom line," she said. 

Terry Cutler, a cyber security expert with Cyology Labs in Montreal, said that is the best course of action businesses can take but the issue boils down to consumers being more vigilant about what they click on.

The real Tammy Beauvais Designs Facebook page on the left compared to the fake account created on the right. (Submitted by Tammy Beauvais)

"That type of scam is very common," said Cutler, who created a video series on Internet safety.

"Especially on Facebook, if you haven't spoken to somebody in months or years and all of a sudden they want to share their lottery wins with you and all you have to do is pay a fee up front — these are scams people should be aware of. You would think they're obvious but a lot of people fall for them. It requires awareness training, that's what it comes down to."