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Is that the real Tom Miller? Watch out for imposters on Facebook

If anyone on Facebook offers you money — even a friend or a well-known person such as Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller — stop and check it out.

Imposter scams proliferate on social media and prey on our trust. The prevalence of digital photographs and logos online makes it easy for scammers to steal images and create social media accounts that appear to be owned and operated by companies, agencies, celebrities or public officials. For example, a message from the IRS demanding you pay back taxes immediately or face imprisonment is far more persuasive because it appears to be coming from a government office.  

Such scams will be featured during AARP Iowa’s statewide teletown hall at 10 a.m. May 14. “Don’t Be Fooled by Imposter Scams” will feature Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and AARP Iowa State Director Kent Sovern. This call will highlight the growing problem of imposter scams, share ways you can identify and avoid being scammed by them, address your questions and concerns, and provide resources, tips and websites. To participate in AARP Iowa’s statewide teletown hall, call 866-757-0607 or watch the livestream at

Facebook estimates that 2-3 percent of its users — as many as 60 million accounts — are fake. In fact, the New York Times reported last month that several accounts masquerading as Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have swindled Facebook users out of thousands of dollars. 

Imposters have also targeted consumers using a fake Iowa Attorney General account on Facebook. These scammers pretend to be Tom Miller and send messages offering consumers funds through a grant. The catch is that to apply and qualify for the funds, Facebook users are asked to send their personal information and even make payments to the imposter to cover taxes, processing fees or other made-up charges.

You can protect yourself from imposters on social media by applying the same methods that keep you safe from scammers calling your phone or sending you mailings. Stop. Think. Verify. If you’re contacted about an offer that seems too good to be true, or receive a message that attempts to scare you in to taking immediate action, take the time to think through what is being asked of you and determine whether it makes sense.  

Here are some other things you can do to protect yourself while using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social media account:

Don’t give out personal information. Be wary anytime someone asks for your password or login information — even if the person claims he or she is a Facebook employee who threatens to shut down your account unless you “verify” it. Remember, a legitimate business or agency would never ask you to email, text, or Facebook message them your bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers.

Don’t pay to claim a “prize.” Watch out for anyone who asks you to wire money or send numbers for iTunes, money or gift cards, even if it seems like a legitimate way for you to claim lottery winnings, government grant funds, or take part in a money-making opportunity. 

Use the phone. If the individual contacting you says they’re with a particular company or agency, contact that company by phone using the number listed on the company’s website or in the phone book and verify that the information you’re receiving from the online contact is legitimate.   

Look for a blue or gray badge.  If you see a blue badge (a blue circle with a checkmark) on a Facebook page or profile, it means that Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic page or profile for a public figure, media company or brand.  A gray badge means that Facebook confirmed that this is an authentic page for this business or organization. For example, the legitimate Iowa Attorney General account has a gray badge). Learn more about verified accounts through Facebook.

Report the account. On Facebook, go to the account in question and click on the three dots near the “Message” icon. You can also report the activity to the legitimate account holder.

Protect your friends. Make it harder for Facebook imposters by hiding your friends list so they can’t contact them if they clone your account. To do it through a web browser, open your Facebook profile, click on the “Friends” tab, click “Edit Privacy” (which may be under the pencil tab) and then select “Only me” on the “Who can see your friends list?” drop-down menu.

Learn more: See you May 14 for AARP Iowa’s statewide teletown hall for tips on scams like these and many more.

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