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Hackers targeting Facebook pages of animal rescue organizations | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

BALTIMORE — Animal rescue groups are being targeted by hackers on Facebook. Their pages are taken over then used to solicit money from unsuspecting donors.

These rescue organizations rely on their social media accounts to fundraise, adopt out animals, and reunite lost pets with their owners, but when their pages are hijacked, their life-saving missions are stalled, and they said they’ve received little help from Facebook.

“She was running as a stray in Parkville and I took her in,” said Leah Biddinger, president & founder of Bring ‘Em Home Animal Rescue and Trapping.

Biddinger found Marshmallow, a three-year-old pitbull mix, on the street. She believes she was used for breeding and in an abusive home. She brought her in through her rescue and found her a loving home, until that owner became sick. Biddinger is now searching for Marshmallow’s forever home, but it’s been a struggle after she lost access to her rescue’s Facebook account.

“It was on May 17,” said Biddinger “I went to my Facebook page for the rescue and found that I couldn’t access it.”

Someone locked her out then used her page to post fake puppies for sale.

“There are so many dogs and animals there that we’re trying to get out to get re-homed, and you can’t get any help from Facebook, zero,” said Biddinger.

Rescue Well President Christine Sandberg ran into the same issue.

“About six months ago, out of nowhere, we were removed as administrators on our own page,” said Sandberg.

She still doesn’t have access and has yet to hear from Facebook after attempting to contact the social media platform about her hacked account.

“It puts people and animals at risk because our organization helps people that are in crisis. Especially post-pandemic, we’re seeing more and more people that need our assistance. And if they’re not able to get through to us on our Facebook page, they’re relying on other avenues that, frankly, are just not as efficient,” said Sandberg.

Biddinger is also the admin of another page, Lost and Found Pets of Baltimore County and City, with more than 18,000 followers.

Hackers took over this page then changed the name to BARCS MD in an attempt to replicate the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), a page with over 158,000 followers.

“So, unfortunately, this fake page is posting about animals that are not available, they are made up animals that they are asking for money from people and people are filling out the form and making donations thinking that they are giving the money to BARCS when in fact, they’re not,” said Noelle Patterson, assistant director of communications for BARCS.

The animal shelter cares for more than 10,000 animals a year. Patterson said they can’t risk losing any support or access to their page.

“I think that when we are at capacity, and we’re relying on social media to reach people to reach our community to alert them of this and help get the animals out the door, that something like this can really put them at risk,” Patterson added.

BARCS also alerted Facebook, as did WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii. She sent multiple emails but never received a response.

“Rescues are out here doing as much as we can, and when something like this happens, it doesn’t just impact us, it impacts our whole entire network,” said Biddinger.

Biddinger feels animals’ lives are at stake as well as the groups’ reputations and revenue. What they want is to regain control of their pages, enhanced security, and for Facebook to respond.

“The security measures that Facebook has offered us wasn’t enough,” added Sandberg.

On Wednesday, Biddinger finally heard back from Facebook after tracking down the phone number to someone on their security team. She has her page back as well as the Lost and Found Pets of Baltimore County and City.

Sandberg, however, is still waiting for assistance.

BARCS also said they’ve cut down on the number of administrators on their account, added two-factor authentication, but worry something like this could still happen to them.

Sofastaii reported the hacker’s accounts to Zelle and Venmo. In an email, a spokesperson for Early Warning Services, the network operator of Zelle®, wrote:

“Thank you for bringing this important issue to our attention. Helping consumers protect themselves from fraud and scams is a priority for Zelle®. While we cannot comment on individuals who use Zelle® for privacy reasons, we can confirm that any suspicious reported activity is thoroughly investigated and if we find someone is abusing the network, they are removed immediately.”

A PayPal spokesperson wrote:

“Venmo has a zero-tolerance policy on our platform for attempted fraudulent activity. Whenever someone suspects they are the target of a potential scam, or they have had an unauthorized or unsatisfactory transaction, we always recommend that they contact Customer Support directly for assistance in resolving the matter.”

For additional information on how to keep your Facebook account secure, click here.

And if you’d like to contribute to the organizations impacted by this situation, click on their links below.


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