HUNTER businesses are urging people to beware of online scammers after their social media accounts were replicated and used to ask for nude pictures and bank account details.
At least two people have fallen victim to the scam and been forced to cancel their bank cards.
But the people behind Hunter Plastic Surgery and Bao Brothers hope sharing their story will encourage users to be more wary of people asking for private information and pictures online.
The local businesses said their social media pages had been copied and used to approach users on Facebook and Instagram.
They said the scam accounts looked almost identical to theirs, but for the addition of an extra symbol or letter in their username, spelling and grammatical errors, and fewer followers.
Amber Moncrieff, of Hunter Plastic Surgery, said social media seemed to be the new frontier of online scammers.
"They create a profile and it looks exactly the same," she said. "With ours, they had used the same pictures, and re-posted all of our content. So for all intents and purposes, apart from an underscore, it looked just like our page."
Ms Moncrieff said the scammers had approached a prospective patient about a breast reduction via a direct message, and then asked her to send through pictures.
Thankfully, the woman had declined, but Ms Moncrieff said she could only assume the end goal was blackmail.
"It is something that is becoming quite prolific," she said. "People are looking for ways to exploit people all the time online.
"Nick [Dr Moncrieff] has been impersonated a couple of times - accounts have popped up using his photo, and we have just reported those. But this is the first time we have seen attempts to blackmail patients who have sent photos, and defraud people of money."
Nathan Martin, co-owner of Bao Brothers, said they recently ran a giveaway to promote their business and the Hunter Valley which had garnered more than 10,000 comments on Facebook within 24 hours.
"Then somebody messaged me saying they'd had a message from somebody saying to give their credit card details to win the prize," he said. "Someone had created another Bao Brothers Facebook page, and copied every one of our posts for the last two weeks, so at a glance, it looked legit."
Mr Martin said they had called the police, who advised them to report it to Facebook as there was "not a lot they could do".
But reports to Facebook had returned what seemed like an automated response saying they could not identify a problem, and no action was taken.
"We got on top of it pretty quick. We put up a post up saying this guy is fake, please don't give your credit card details," Mr Martin said.
"We went onto the page and started commenting, 'Hoax, hoax, hoax'. He deleted his page after about an hour and half."
Mr Martin said they were not sure what steps to take to stop it from happening again.
"There's no real text book on how to combat or filter it," he said. "This is like a whole new 'consumer beware' type thing. People are pretty smart, but obviously these people prey on that 1 per cent who might not realise it's a hoax."
Mr Martin said to their knowledge, no one had given their details to the fake account. But social media influencer Jess Laing, who also works for Hunter Plastic Surgery, knows at least two people who follow her that had shared their bank account details online.
Her personal Instagram account was targeted immediately after she ran a skincare giveaway.
"They had used all of my recent photos, they had the same bio, everything," she said. "The day after I had posted about the competition they were sending DMs to people saying 'Congratulations, you've won the prize, head to this website and fill in the details so we can send you the prize.
"I had over 40 people tell me there was a scam, but at least two people I know had actually given their details to the scammer. Some people who know me and trust me thought that it must be alright, and because it was just a message from my Instagram name - they didn't click on the profile - they were excited and did it."
Ms Laing said it was sneaky on the scammers behalf, leveraging off the trust of her friends and followers.
"I felt so bad. I didn't want people to think I'd scammed them," she said. "I was asking people to report it, and they did, but the scammers just changed the name slightly - they added in an extra 's'."
Ms Moncrieff said even if Facebook and Instagram could not offer coveted "blue tick" verifications to everyone, she would like to see them adopt an alternative for verified businesses to help people better identify who is legitimate and who is not.
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