Hunger scammers

A CRUEL con targeting people desperate for groceries was being spread in suburban Facebook groups this week.

The fake “One Year of Free Groceries” competition has swiped IGA’s brand name, though it’s been around a few years in various guises and using a variety of store names.

The fake-IGA version looks to have been wildly successful as the shelves in bigger supermarkets have become patchy, luring people in with images of packed grocery boxes. 

The fake “IGA Club” page was getting about 5000 people signing up each day. Many were sharing the competition in the hope of improving their chances to win either a year’s free groceries or a $100 voucher.

The comments were full of hopeful folk praying they’d win; pensioners said they were doing it tough and the groceries “would be a life saver” or “so very helpful for my family”.

“That would change my life,” another said.

“I need one for my mum.

“This would be wonderful as the 7th is my birthday and with social distancing it looks like a rather ordinary day.”

The offer seemed too good to be true so we reverse image-searched the bountiful grocery box images on Google, and found they’d recently been used by scammers in New Zealand with a near identical set up, only for their local chain “New World” instead of IGA.

The website’s identifying data has been hidden, but they’re running the scams all over the world, localising it with popular shop names in Norway, Germany, Canada and the US. 

The image of the tempting groceries was originally from a 2014 story about a charity food bank in West Somerset.

When people click “sign up” to enter they’re taken to a sham website. Some versions infect the victim’s computer with viruses that can either steal bank details or shut down the computer for a ransom fee. Other versions just tell punters they’ve won, and can get their prize if they transfer a small fee. Other versions use information you enter for identify theft, and the least malicious versions simply acrue a bunch of likes on a Facebook page and then sell that to a shady business who changes the name.

The Voice tried to contact the page owners but got no response. We got in touch with the Consumer Protection Department whose ScamNet team have organised to get the page taken down, “after identifying that it did not have any affiliation to IGA and  was indeed a ‘pharming’ or ‘harvesting’ scam”. 

IGA’s national PR rep Heather Howell says “it is terrible that in such times there are people willing to take advantage of others”. She says IGA had also been working with Facebook to have it taken down.

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