Bay Area man lost his wife, then got scammed. Now Facebook won't stop the hacker

ByKarina Nova and Renee Koury KGO logo
Saturday, February 24, 2024
Hacker controls Bay Area widower's Facebook, posts fake GoFundMe
A grieving Northern California husband found a hacker locked his Facebook account and began taking GoFundMe donations in his late wife's memory.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- A North Bay man grieving the death of his wife awoke to a heart wrenching sight: a photo of his late wife staring out from a phony GoFundMe campaign. It was supposedly raising money for her funeral. The imposter had also hijacked the man's Facebook account to ask for donations. And yet months later Facebook still refuses to shut it down.

Richard Links was struggling with grief over the loss of his beloved wife Cathryn. "On a daily basis, I'm confronting her absence," he says. "I walk in here and I see her. I'm surrounded by her presence."

Cathryn's death from cancer last summer left him suddenly alone after 31 years of marriage.

But as grief tore at his heart, a scam made it worse.

"They have taken a picture of my late wife Cathryn and posted it to the fake GoFundMe page," said Links, a resident of Berkeley and Mendocino.

Links was shocked to find a particular post on his own Facebook page: it was a photo of his late wife, with a caption saying, "Donate in Cathryn's memory, Richard needs your help..."

The post linked to a fake GoFundMe page, taking donations supposedly for her funeral.

None of it was real.

Links tried to delete the Facebook post...

But he was locked out of his account.

An imposter had taken control.

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He was helpless to stop it. His wife's image, still staring out from the scam.

"To have this sort of evilness foisted on me... this is the worst possible thing, you know? Just stomp on me, why don't you?" Links said.

"And I mean, my poor wife. She would be horrified if she were here, witnessing what's going on. She would be so furious," he said.

The hacker was also sending direct messages to Links's Facebook friends, asking for money... In one, the scammer wrote: "People suggest I create a charity group for Cathryn... if you will like to donate I can send a tag... will you like Zelle or Cash App?"

Four friends had already donated to the phony GoFundMe campaign.

Links used a secondary Facebook account to warn others. It reached only a few people.

"I can't stand on Broadway and fourth avenue and hold a big sign. it's not going to do anything," he said.

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His friends and 7 On Your Side alerted GoFundMe to the fraud.

Three days later, the site took down the campaign and refunded donors' money.

However, Facebook has refused to remove the hacker from Links's account.

"We've reviewed your complaint, yada yada we found nothing irregular," Links said.

Links's friends also tried to alert Facebook. To their amazement, Facebook kept sending automated responses saying the account met all standards.

In an email, Facebook told Links: "We reviewed the profile your friends reported and found that it isn't pretending to be you and doesn't go against our community standards."

Which infuriated Links. He and friends tried again and again to explain -- the profile was not the issue. It was a hacker controlling the account.

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Facebook kept sending an automated response saying, "We've taken a look and found that the profile doesn't go against our community standards. We understand that this might be upsetting so we recommend exploring the options available to control what you see. If you want us to review something specific, be sure to report the content, not the entire profile."

"We weren't talking to a person at Facebook,'' says Links's friend Elizabeth Bernstein of Berkeley. "We were talking to an algorithm."

This further infuriated Links.

"Well, how about this Mr. and Mrs. Facebook! These people stole my identity and are using it for nefarious purposes," he said.

Facebook did not explain how the reported crime met community standards. To this day, the stolen account is still active -- now claiming Links is raising money for prostate cancer, when he's not.

"Does that sound like it goes with your policy?" Links said.

Facebook did not respond to ABC7's inquiries asking why it's letting a hacker control Links's account and to commit fraud. But parent company Meta is planning a subscription service to charge money for account security for Facebook and Instagram users. A post by Meta's Mark Zuckerberg says it will cost up to $14.99 per month for concierge service to, for example, restore a stolen account - like Links's...Zuckerberg said in a post that giving everyone such security would cost too much.

Take a look at more stories and videos by 7 On Your Side.

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