Facebook scams are rampant, well made and informed on Maltese culture

Heard how Maltese actor Davide Tucci made €2.3 million after his bankruptcy? Or of Rebels MC ‘president’ Alex Vella’s bitcoin fortune? Chances are you’ve seen a sponsored advert all over Facebook specifically aimed at Maltese users.

A spate of adverts has been appearing over the past month on Facebook with specific messages aimed at a Maltese audience, plugging Bitcoin platforms. The ads employ the use of well-known political and entertainment figures, with promises of fortune and riches to the unsuspecting public.

Tucci himself took to Facebook to tell people that he does not have any association whatsoever with the sponsored ads. “Allegations of bankruptcy are serious. I have worked so hard over the last few years to build a name and a career for myself as an actor, and for my name and image to be used by such scammers is utterly disgusting,” he said.

This is not the first time that Tucci’s name and image have been used on Facebook, having previously reported fake profiles of himself asking for illicit pictures and credit card details from several Facebook users.

This time, Tucci took the fake advert seriously and reported it to the Cyber Crime Unit. The ad claims that Tucci made €2.3 million, leading users to a well-crafted that features stills from the One Breakfast show, quotes Maltese personalities, and is purportedly written by one Anton Sacco, a Maltese name.

The writing becomes tackier as you scroll further down with giant red buttons asking users to “join the Bitcoin revolution”, with fake comments from readers saying how “millions were made overnight”.

Once users “sign up to the Bitcoin revolution”, they are taken to a page asking them for credit card details and an initial minimum investment of €250.

The police’s cybercrime unit told MaltaToday that they are aware of such schemes and that they are on the rise. “Most of the time investigations are initiated after someone has drawn the Police’s attention to such issues through a formal report. There have been instances where the report was lodged by the person being impersonated.”

The CCU said that in the first nine months of 2018, it was involved in 314 investigations related to fraud, an increase from 193 cases during the same period the previous year.

“Although one cannot identify the ultimate objective of such posts prior to the successful conclusion of investigations, it is most likely that the persons behind such fake profiles/pages are aiming for some form of pecuniary benefit,” it added.

Earlier in the week, even the government reported fake adverts featuring the administration to the police. In a statement, the government said that it would not take such matters lightly. “The stories not only have fraudulent intentions, but also try to cast a shadow by reporting untruthful facts,” the government said.

The fraudulent adverts have slipped past Facebook’s defences at a time when the social media website has banned all ads that promoted financial products and services. Chances are that after Facebook relaxed its initial ban to allow pre-approved advertisers to promote their services on the website, scammers have found a way to exploit the updated policy.

It is very likely that real people are being used, rather than bots, to concoct these very specific adverts: they smart and informed on Maltese culture. The latest scams featuring Davide Tucci even use screenshots from Maltese television programmes and purport to ‘quote’ One Group television presenters Wayne Sammut and Elaine Degiorgio.

The two presenters filed a police report themselves after the spam article featuring their names and pictures started doing the rounds on Facebook.

“It must be pointed out that such ‘opportunities’ are not something new but, rather, an evolution of similar scams that have been around for a number of years. These types of scams are commonly referred to as ‘like farming’ since they are intended to dupe as many users as possible into liking their page to give them more credibility,” the police told MaltaToday.

It added that it constantly sends requests to service providers such as Facebook in the course of its investigations. “Past investigations have indicated that such fraudulent opportunities originate from overseas, sometimes from countries outside the EU. Furthermore, the Police also contributes on a regular basis to information regarding cross-border crime to Europol for analysis.”

In this case, however, whoever is behind the very specific, detailed and relatively well-written advert has done a good deal of research, quite possibly a Maltese individual behind the malicious posts.