Watsontown, Pa. — The Watsontown Police Department received a call regarding a website and Facebook account posing as a local business, and took to Facebook to issue a warning.
The webpage and social media account were made without the consent of the business owner, Heidi Erika Photography, and were targeting her current customer base, according to police.
“I made a brand new updated website for my company and I am doing a giveaway for a free mini session,” said Heidi Myers, who owns the business.
The fake website includes a hyphen in the business name; a slight — and to most — an unnoticeable change to the website’s URL.
“This person [also] created a fake FB account misspelled (no space in between words and spelled photography PHOTOGRAPY). They started making comments on my Facebook post that said to everybody that they won a prize.”
Worse, she said her friends and followers started to get personal messages asking them to click on a link and enter a credit card.
An investigation is currently in progress, according to Watsontown Police.
“These are tough cases,” said Police Chief Rod Witherite. “In cases like these that pertain to social media, it’s sometimes possible to get information for a search warrant. But when you’re dealing with people online, they could be from anywhere.”
If an investigation crosses state lines, local police notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And if officers are led to believe the perpetrators are international, they may contact Interpol.
“We can take the investigation further,” Witherite said, “but it depends on the nature of the crime. They’re more likely to be investigated further if there are serious death threats involved, or if the crime involves sums of over so much money,” he said.
Witherite said the first thing to do if you’ve been hacked is to contact all friends and followers to alert them of the hack. “The biggest concern is to block the person responsible on Facebook,” he said.
But following up with all of a business’ followers can be a challenge. “I have over 3000 followers on my Heidi Erika Photography Facebook page so it’s not like I can just get rid of it and start over,” Myers said.
Myers has also reported the activity to the FBI and Facebook, but has received little assistance from Facebook’s parent company, Meta.
“I feel very violated,” she said. “They even used the picture of my son, and you don’t do that.”
It’s always a good idea to take precautions on the internet, Witherite said.
“Keep your passwords as private as possible,” he said. “Change them regularly and guard your information.”
Myers said she does change her passwords more frequently now, but in the case of a page duplication, she feels there is little else she can do.
“Basically there is no hope of getting it solved,” she said. “I just have to pray that my clients and friends are smart enough not to click on anything and know that it is not me and I would never ask somebody for their credit card.”
Witherite, who said he has also been the target of scam accounts on social media, reinforced that people should be cognizant of similar circumstances to prevent any type of potential scam activity.
“People are creating these fake accounts every day,” he said.