Prospective university students are falling prey to a growing Facebook fraud as marketers set up fake academic groups to vacuum up their personal information.
After a sweep that shut down a number of fraudulent groups last month, a new batch has sprung up, targeting the classes of 2014 and 2015, and experts say more are on the way.
The stakes are high — potentially years’ worth of data and thousands of contacts in a desirable demographic. So high, in fact, one company allegedly tried to bribe and blackmail a student to help a scam.
Hundreds of students in the GTA were told in June to abandon fake “Class of 2013” Facebook groups, many sporting official school logos. A sweep shut down groups targeting classes at more than a dozen major Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, York and Ryerson.
There is “a whole subculture” of people trying to make a quick buck by impersonating legitimate organizations and celebrities online, says Avner Levin, director of the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute at Ryerson University.
The set-up goes beyond sending ads to those who join the fraudulent groups, Levin says. Unbeknownst to students, marketers are building mailing lists, collecting personal information that they can store and sell for years, he says.
“It’s a numbers game — the more people, the more information, the more money.”
Lysan Sequeira left a fake University of Toronto group after receiving a warning message from a real U of T group. The Mississauga resident is angry marketers are profiting from students’ pre-university jitters.
“Students are joining these groups to learn more about university, and not because they want to get spammed,” said Sequeira.
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