With the exploding popularity of social media, people have been left to deal with an influx of information with little to no help from the rapidly changing digital world. Without knowledge of how to safely navigate these spaces, scams run rampant. And some of those manifest as Google Hangouts scams.
While Google Hangouts is just an instant messenger, scammers use it as a tool to befriend or romance their victims with tempting lies. Usually, they do so by casting a wide net, offering bogus relationships, jobs or investments on social media. Once they’ve hooked a target, they bring those unsuspecting victims back to the Hangouts chat to finish the process. So how do you know if an opportunity or person is a part of these notorious Google Hangouts scammers?
The anatomy of a Google Hangouts scam
It’s important to recognize what a scam using Google Hangouts looks like. Many scams follow a consistent formula. Someone on a website outside of the messaging app notices you have a particular want or need for something like a job or a partner, and they message you about it.
Once they establish their offer and build a bit of trust, they will invite you to Google Hangouts to continue this connection. It all sounds very innocuous at first. You may notice one of two red flags, but not enough to dissuade you. Sometimes their scam is so elaborate that many people struggle to tell the difference between a real opportunity and a fake.
Connect on another platform
The scammer will almost always begin on another social media platform or website. This can be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on. They’ve probably been building up this fake persona for some time, cultivating it to appear as real as possible so as to not raise any warning signs.
They will try to connect with you over something you may be seeking. If they see you are single or looking for work, they will use that as a tool to capture your interest. Then they will ask you to move to a different app to chat.
Move to Google Hangouts
Once the scammer has your attention and interest, they will begin to present the idea of moving to Google Hangouts to continue the conversation. They may do this by saying that they’re not very active on the website you met them on, or lie by saying that they can’t use the current social media for some reason or another.
By moving to this chat, they’re able to keep their extensive profile on other websites separate from their scamming account. This way they can avoid bans or reports since there is no evidence of those actions on that platform.
Ask for money
Once they’ve convinced you that they’re a real person looking for love, or maybe an employer looking to hire, they will eventually ask you for money. Often it won’t appear as direct as that.
If you met them via a dating site, they may scam you by mentioning that their car broke down or that they are suddenly sick. They will then ask for money to help them because they have nowhere else to turn. Since they’ve built up trust and affection with you, you may not even second-guess helping them because you care about them.
If they are baiting you with a job opportunity, they may try to swindle money from you in two ways. They may ask you to purchase work equipment for the new job from a specific website they secretly own. They will promise to pay for this equipment by sending you a check, only the equipment you buy isn’t real and the check they send you later bounces. Another angle they may try is instructing you to pay for their in-house training.
It is important to remember that any job that requires you to spend money to work for them is always a scam.
Types of Google Hangouts scams
Google Hangouts scams can come in many forms. Sometimes they’re easily discernible and avoided, and other times they are carefully built up by the scammer to avoid any suspicion. It’s also important to remember a victim may be inclined to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t in hopes of financial stability. Scammers know this and usually try to target desperate people.
These scams typically take form as a prospective partner online. They have an attractive social media profile and for some reason or another declare their attraction to you. They use this to build trust with you and in turn either ask for gifts or for money when they feel comfortable enough.
To retain your trust, they will send you pictures and other evidence that makes them seem real enough. Despite that, they will avoid video chats or visiting to keep their true intentions and identity hidden.
Job interview scams
Posing as an employer in need of your qualifications, they will ask you to interview with them on another website and then try to move you to Hangouts. Oddly enough, they will have the interview take place over text. If they called, you might be able to figure out they are not who they say they are. They may do this to steal your information, or even to convince you to buy work equipment without compensation.
Investment scams are fairly straightforward: A stranger messages you and promises you a get-rich-quick scheme. You invest money with them, and they promise you’ll see a huge return. You never do, though.
These scams happen when the scammer claims to have private sexual information or pictures of their victim. They threaten to release them to your employer, family or just online in general unless you pay a sum of money. If you do, they will continue to extort you for more money with the same threat until you stop complying.
They may also get you to click on their own suggestive pictures. By doing this, you may unknowingly download something that infects your device. The scammer will then demand money to “free” your device.
How to tell if you’re talking to Google Hangouts scammers
“Normally, you can tell that you are talking to a scammer just by looking at their social media profile,” said Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert working for NordVPN in the US. “It is usually pretty empty. The profile picture looks either too good to be true or fake. The photos may also be inconsistent through different social media accounts.”
Look carefully at their social media profiles. If you notice any discrepancies, that could be a red flag. At the end of the day, it’s best to trust your instincts. If something seems off, it probably is.
If they refuse to talk with you over video chat, they’re most likely a scammer. They will do anything they can to avoid revealing they are not who they claim. The same can be said if they refuse to meet up with you.
If someone begins asking you for money, you can assume they’re a scammer. Most people will not ask new connections to give or lend them money. If you do worry for someone, help them by looking for social services in their area that may help solve their problem.
If you’re suspicious of someone, it’s never a bad idea to run their name through a people search tool. The results may help you determine if the personal information they’ve provided lines up with a real person. Note, though, that scammers may have access to the same tools and might be impersonating someone real.
How to avoid Google Hangouts scams
Fact-check the information given to you by any scammer. See if they are real employees at the business they claim to work for. Never invest with anyone who claims to be able to make you rich, and never pay someone who is trying to extort you.
Don’t send anyone your private photos or information over Google Hangouts. No job or investment will ask you to connect over Google Hangouts. As it is, even if you think you can trust someone, be conservative with what information you do give.
“The less information you give away, the less likely scammers will be able to use it against you,” said Markuson.
Always consider it a red flag when someone suggests taking your conversation to Google Hangouts. While not everyone who uses the app is a scammer, it’s better to remain wary of their intentions. If they begin to ask for money or send any strange links, you are probably best off blocking and reporting them immediately.
The biggest threat a Google Hangouts scammer poses is how they prey upon the trust they carefully build through their scams. . Stay vigilant and never share private or important information or money with people you’ve met on Hangouts.