Money-making schemes are, generally speaking, a bad idea. Especially those that promise high returns on low investments, and Ponzi/pyramid schemes, and ones that sound a little too good to be true.
Yet people still fall for them. In a comment on a post by Ethan Vanderbuilt warning about the dangers of the ‘MMM Global’ scam, one person who has been taken in by it (scammee?) wrote a couple of paragraphs about how trustworthy it is, and how people should be using it instead of banks.
I found Ethan’s post because I was googling around for information on MMM Global. A client of mine, who runs several Facebook groups, recently noticed a sudden influx of requests to one group, all from people with similar names.
It turned out that all of these people were part of MMM Global. To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, on one group we saw 60 people request to join on Monday, 148 on Tuesday, and 166 on Wednesday. These are cumulative, too: we’ve been blocking requests as they’ve occurred, so all are unique profiles (even if not run by unique users).
We managed to not let any of these particular scammers in, but thinking through the scenario, I would imagine that their goal is the following:
- Sign up to multiple Facebook groups
- Many Facebook groups have a setting that allows any group member to approve other group members. If this is set, then as soon as one scammer gets in, they can let in all their scammer friends.
- Once they’re all in, take over the group and post multiple MMM Global messages, encouraging new recruits.
It is worth emphasising here that even letting one scammer in can cause a sudden influx, if you don’t have tight security settings.
So, what can group admins do about it?
First of all, check your group settings. You can find these by clicking the ellipsis next to ‘Notifications’ on your group’s homepage:
This will bring up a drop-down menu, on which one of the options will be ‘Edit group settings’.
Click this and you will be taken to a page that describes all the settings on your group.
There are two places you want to be paying attention to.
1. Membership Approval
Changing this from “Any member can add or approve members” to “Any member can add members, but an admin must approve them” gives you more control over whom you let into your group.
The advantage of allowing any member to approve other members is that, especially for very popular groups, it reduces the workload for admins. However, the disadvantage is that it opens the door for scammers, especially networks like the MMM Global ones that seem to be seeing a sudden surge on Facebook.
There are two options to think about here.
Firstly, posting permissions, which decides who can post to the group. In general, I would recommend that this be set to “Members and admins can post to the group”, because this tends to encourage discussion and means you’re not the only person instigating conversations. However, this will depend on the nature of your group; perhaps you only want the group to be allowed to discuss certain topics.
The more important one is post approval. Again, the advantage of leaving this unticked is that ticking it adds more work for admins. However, if a scammer or group of scammers does get in, having this box unchecked means that you’re likely to see a sudden influx of posts, which you’ll then have to go through and delete individually, remembering also to ban the members.
Note: It’d be really good if Facebook could implement some kind of feature that meant that when you ban a member, you can automatically delete all their posts as well. Lots of scammers and spammers enter a group, then spend a couple of hours posting e.g. 100+ times. This means that when the admin next logs on, they have quite a task on their hands deleting individual posts – or they just leave the posts up, which makes their group look spammy.
Once you’re done updating your group settings, go through recent posts and check carefully for anything that looks suspicious.
Checking for scammers
If you run a Facebook group, you’ll probably know roughly how many signups you normally get on a given day, give or take a few either side. If you suddenly see an influx of requests, it’s tempting to assume your group has just seen a jump in popularity due to your excellent content, and this might be the case.
However, it could also be a network of scammers trying to get in, so be careful.
Scammers are sometimes quite sophisticated in their methods, but here are a couple of basic checks you can undertake.
1. Are they already there?
First, check if there are any scammers already lurking, waiting for their friends to arrive. To do this, go to your group and click the ‘Members’ tab.
Once you’re there, you’ll see a number of different options just above all the members’ listed profiles. Click on the box that says ‘Default’:
This will bring up a drop-down menu. Select ‘Join Date’ from the menu that appears.
This will then order all your group members by the date on which they joined, with the most recent at the top.
Whilst it is possible that someone who joined a year ago has been lurking for months to see if any other scammers will join, it’s unlikely. What you want is to sweep recent memberships.
Looking down the list might not immediately tell you who’s a scammer, of course. But if you see a lot of people with variations on the same name – the same surname but a different first name, for example, or the other way around – this is a sign that you might have a scammer problem.
2. Checking profiles
Hover over their username, or over the thumbnail profile picture, and a preview of their cover photo will appear.
What you’re looking for here is something that has a dodgy-sounding company on the cover. I know “dodgy-sounding” is relative, but anything about making money quickly, joining a global financial movement etc. is probably a scam.
For example, I have seen a lot of the following in groups targeted by scammers:
As you can see from the third example, the MMM Global scam specifically is currently branching out into bitcoin, so if you see anyone requesting to be in your groups who has a bitcoin-related profile picture, it’s worth paying particular attention to their request.
3. Identifying networks
As I mentioned previously, scammers work in teams. If you do see any suspicious-looking profiles when you’re going through your group requests, check to see whether they have any friends within the group.
On the page where you’re requesting members, as well as a snapshot of their profile, Facebook also gives you a bit more information about each person.
I can’t find a specific example on any of the groups I’m looking at, but you should be able to get a general idea from the screenshot below.
Where it says ‘2 mutual friends’, you will sometimes see a note in the same place that says ‘2 friends in group’. This is a hyperlink and is both hoverable and clickable.
Hovering over it will show you the names of the friends in a little black pop-up box, but no further information. However, if you hover over it and you see that it’s a group member you already know, who follows the rules and posts interesting things, you’ll know that this request is unlikely to be from a scammer.
If you don’t know the people in the little pop-up box, you can click on the words ‘2 mutual friends’ and it will pop up a larger box which gives their names and tells you your current relation to them.
This is useful for two reasons: firstly, you can click on their names and see whether their profiles look spammy.
Secondly, if you discover that they are in fact scammers, you can find them and remove them from the group relatively simply.
4. Removing identified members
To remove a member, you need to find them within the group. To do this, click on the Members tab at the top of the page, just underneath the group’s cover photo.
You then need to search for them using the box called ‘Find a member’ – NOT the box called ‘Search this group’ above it.
Type their name into the search box and click ‘Enter’.
Note: If the scammers’ names contain characters that aren’t on the keyboard you’re using, this is where the second pop-up box from point  becomes particularly useful. When you’ve popped up the box containing the person’s name and profile photo, you can then highlight and copy their name, navigate to the page above, and paste this into the ‘Find a member’ box.
Once you’ve found them, click on the little cog next to their information.
As you can see, this then pops up a menu that allows you to remove them from the group.
As you can also see, Facebook is a wankpuffin and it puts the ‘Make Admin’ option RIGHT NEXT TO the ‘This person is a scammer, get rid of them please’ option. Which makes no sense, but that’s Facebook for you.
Make sure you click ‘Remove from Group’ rather than the option above it and the following box will appear.
Tick the ‘Block Permanently’ check box and click ‘Confirm’.
There! Scammer gone.
Now you just have to repeat the steps with any others who have signed up, and you’re done.
This is a time-consuming and irritating process, but it’s the only way I’ve found of being thorough enough to properly reduce spam in your groups.
For more information on the MMM Global Finance scam specifically, take a look at CoinJournal for an overview of their founder, who has recently been released from prison where he was serving time for his previous scam; Ethan Vanderbuilt for an in-depth look at the scheme itself; and Wikipedia for a general overview.