FRAUDSTERS hacked into a beauty salon’s Facebook page and posed as the owners to fleece customers in an elaborate text scam.
Copes Studios, in Raby Road, Hartlepool, has a Facebook account where customers regularly log on to book l Turn to Page 5
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appointments with two of the owners, Dee and Gemma Cope.
But suddenly the mum and daughter noticed they had been locked out of the social networking account before questions and complaints started rolling in from puzzled and angry punters who had been cheated out of money on their mobile phone bills.
The conmen had started posing as Dee, 51, and Gemma, 26, and began contacting customers saying they were setting up an iPad text service and needed the clients to text “87070” from their contract mobile telephones.
Some of the customers questioned the request, but the fraudsters replied pretending to be the beauticians saying things like: “It’s just Gemma, or it’s just Dee, I know it sounds cheeky” and “I can understand your concerns, Dee x.”
Several regulars that Dee and Gemma know about fell for the scam and texted the number, with the fraudsters then charging them around £1.25 for each incoming and outgoing texts.
Some clients went on to rack up bills of £50 by getting involved in text “conversations” with the 87070 number.
Dee, who is a mum of 14 and has ran Cope Studios with members of her family for the last three-and-a-half-years, fears hundreds of her customers could have built up huge bills if they have got in conversations with the conmen.
She said: “I’m absolutely furious, this is just awful.
“I feel terrible that someone is using mine and Gemma’s names to con our customers out of money.
“It’s awful how someone can rip people off like that while they’re pretending to be me and Gemma, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.”
She added: “I want to warn as many of our customers as possible not to answer any inbox messages from the Cope Studios Facebook page.
“People have trusted us and these conmen are taking advantage of that trust.
“It wouldn’t be right at any time of the year, but it’s right on Christmas and people can’t afford this.
“I’ve asked customers or family who can get onto the page to put warning messages up, but they’re just removed straight away.
“One woman put a message on there saying ‘the police are onto you’ and they replied saying ‘we’re going to hack you now’.”
Another client, Joanne Normanton, 27, from the Dyke House area of Hartlepool, had only been into the shop once when she received a message from who she thought was Dee, asking her to text the number so she could set up a new iPad “text message” service.
Teaching student Joanne said: “I asked if it was free and then I got four text messages back. I heard about Cope’s getting hacked so I rang my service provider and they said the 87070 number had charged me £9. I heard one woman got charged £50.”
She added: “At first I thought ‘I’m never going back to that shop because how rude are some people’. I’ll do anything to help anyone out and that’s what I thought I was doing.
“Now I know what’s really happened I feel really sorry for them. Lots of people won’t know what’s gone on, and they’ll be thinking the same as I did.”
Dee added: “I feel terrible. Every single customer who came in one day, except one, had been contacted by these people. Anyone who has texted that 87070 number could be out of pocket.”
Dee contacted Cleveland Police who passed the case onto Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, and officers are looking into the case.
An Action Fraud spokesman said that if a review rules that the crime – which started on Thursday last week and was reported on Saturday – is part of a large scale fraud network it will remain with Action Fraud officers, otherwise it will be transferred back to Cleveland Police.
Anyone who is targeted in the Cope Studios fraud, should telephone 0300 1232040 to report it.