Column: Local social media crime on the rise in Chilton County

Published 1:08 pm Monday, June 12, 2023

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By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Columnist

Commonly, social media users that frequent websites like Facebook and Instagram know all-too-well about hackers and scam artists. Accounts are hacked and exploitive links are sent through the messaging service with a message such as, “you’ll never believe who died” or “is this you in the video,” prompting users to click on the link which then loads viruses onto the computer.

In recent months, the level of crime has increased among hackers and scam artists alike on social media, particularly on Facebook Marketplace. Marketplace is a popular feature on Facebook that sells second-hand items and connects strangers to make business transactions.

In Birmingham on May 31, 31-year-old Jermiera Fowler went missing after she left to meet someone from Facebook about an item listed on its Marketplace.  Later that week Fowler’s body was found and police have listed the case as a homicide investigation.

“Anytime you are going somewhere different to meet a person you don’t know you need to find out everything you can about them,” said Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon. “You need to know who you are dealing with and meet them in a safe area.”

Some recommended safety tips when meeting strangers is to meet at a well-lit public place with security cameras and thoroughly research the person’s Facebook account. Frequently, scammers will make accounts that are only a few days old. When receiving payments, use an instant electronic payment that cannot be canceled later or small amounts of cash are recommended.

Shearon also recommends to never share personal information with people you don’t know.

“Many times when a scammer contacts you they will always tell you that it is a dire emergency and for you to send money,” said Shearon. “They will tell you that it needs to be sent immediately or there will be a consequence. If you believe you are being contacted by an agency like law enforcement, you need to hang up and call that agency directly.”

Chilton County Sheriff’s Office has recently received numerous complaints in reference to arrest warrant scams. The scammers identify themselves as a member of local law enforcement, even using the names of real employees, such as Captain Ken Harmon, and demand payment in the form of gift cards to avoid being arrested on a warrant.

“If you have a warrant, we want you to satisfy that warrant, not money. We have had similar scams with the IRS,” Sheron said. “Be careful sending people money. Once that money is sent, it’s gone. We probably aren’t going to be able to track the payment.”

For more information, contact the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department at 205-755-4698.