For small business owners, social media can often make or break a business. But for one Billings small business owner, it's turned into a nightmare, thanks to a new Facebook scam.
Courtney Kirkwood has owned Blush Boutique, a woman's clothing and accessory store in Billings located at 114 N. Broadway, for 15 years. As a small business owner, Kirkwood said she did everything she could to expand her sales, and that included growing a mass 5,000-person following on her boutique's Facebook page.
“We actually do everything on social media. We don’t even have a website. We rely completely on social media," Kirkwood said on Tuesday. "A lot of our sales are online sales. So yes, we do have an actual store that you can come in to, but I’d say probably 80% of our sales are online, and we’re shipping out to people.”
Kirkwood's storefront is located inside Belle en Blanc , a bridal boutique in Billings. And while the business has a physical storefront, Kirkwood said most of her sales are made online. But her Facebook account was hacked on Monday—leaving her without access to her customers.
"I was getting ready to post kind of our winter clearance sale. I went to go to my main Facebook page, and when I clicked on it, it said that it had been disabled. So then I went to my Blush business page, and I had no power. Like, I couldn’t do anything with it," Kirkwood said. "So all my admin powers had been taken away. And it was just like, I could go on and comment on different things, but again I couldn’t post anything. And we have almost 5,000 people just on that page alone."
Kirkwood is a recent victim of the "Lily Collins Facebook Hack" —but she says this scam has been happening for years.
"When I Googled this, I could not believe that we hadn’t heard about this. It’s been going on for years. It’s called the 'Lily Collins Scam' after the actress. It’s been going on for years,” Kirkwood said. “From what I’ve read, is that they do go after people with businesses. In the text, he flat out said, 'How much is it worth to you to have access back to your account?' Well, when you have a business that’s ran strictly off of social media, people are kind of freaking out, like myself. And yeah, we’re willing to pretty much do whatever we can to get access back to our business.”
According to Kirkwood, whoever hacked her account began messaging her, asking her to pay them ransom to gain access back to her account. She believes this scam is targeting business owners like herself.
She's not giving up and is working to get her account back. In the meantime, she started a second Facebook page for Blush to continue business operations.
"We’ve just got such great customers that are already reaching out. Sharing our new page, going and writing reviews, because all of those are gone as well. I believe that when people shop online in unknown boutiques or whatever, the first thing I do is go check reviews. Because I want to hear what other people are saying about the company. And right now, I think I have two compared to the hundreds that we had before on our page,” Kirkwood said. “We’re just reaching out to people and asking them to invite people to like the page, share the page. And everyone’s been really receptive to that. Social media really is everything for our business. In order for it to grow and to be successful, we need social media."
But Kirkwood isn't optimistic she'll get her account back after a lack of response from Facebook's parent company, Meta.
“One person did say that they got their account back through Meta. So who knows? I mean if we get it back, that would be fantastic. If not, we’ll just start rebuilding and get after it and do it again,” Kirkwood said. “(I've reached out to) Facebook, Instagram, Meta I guess is what it’s called. And nothing. Nothing back. There’s no customer service number that you can call on Facebook. Which is crazy when they have over hundreds of thousands of employees. Yet no one answers the phone. There’s a live chat on there, but nothing, no help. And it’s not a live chat, it’s a put-it-in and it’s a bot answering you. So really, I’ve gotten nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. So we’ll see kind of what today has for us. Hopefully, I get a response from somebody.”
Trouble getting in contact with support—something another victim, Diann Zimmerman, has also had problems with.
"I’ve lost access. I have a business page and several Facebook groups. Just a lot of art-related groups. And I’ve lost access to manage those groups," Zimmerman said via phone on Tuesday. "I’m the only admin. I do have a couple moderators who can do some things, but they can’t do all. So I’ve lost my admin status.”
Zimmerman is an artist who lives in Houston, Texas. In 2017, she received a brain injury after being hit in the head with a suitcase. After her injury, she was drawn to art and started a few Facebook art groups. All have gathered a large following, but one in particular, 'Watercolor-Beginners and Beyond' , has racked up more than 150,000 members.
"I created it, and then three and a half years later it’s got 152,000 people in it from all over the world. Representing over 100 countries, even all seven continents. We even have a research scientist in Antarctica in our group," Zimmerman said. "We have weekly painting challenges and sponsors that provide prizes for the painting challenges. It’s just a very encouraging, very warm, and kind watercolor group.”
But now that her account has been hacked, her groups are left without an admin—and her content.
“All of my content that I put into these groups, all the guides, all the how-to's, all the reference photos, all this work. When they disabled my account, all that data, everything that was related to me is gone," Zimmerman said. "So the group, all the reference information, is just, poof, it’s just gone.”
And the loss of her groups isn't the only negative impact on Zimmerman. She also relies on Facebook to help her remember important memories from years past following her brain injury.
"I go into Facebook and I click on memories to see what I posted from 2015-2019. Just to see what I did that day and the picture. It’s really important for me to read what I wrote that day. I’m like, 'Oh yeah, I remember feeling that, I remember doing that,' and I just try to kind of force myself to relive those memories so that I have them and I don’t lose them,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the thing I am most upset about. Because I feel like I’m going to lose those years."
Zimmerman explained she has recently joined a Facebook group, 'Hacked and changed to (Lily Collins)', that was created for victims of the scam. The group has gained over 900 followers from all over the world since its creation three weeks ago.
“They’re everywhere. They’re from Malta and Singapore, England, Europe, all over the United States. Everyone is in there posting," Zimmerman said. "Every day it’s sort of like Groundhog Day to read the posts. Like, 'Hey, I was just hacked and they changed my name,' and then, 'I was disabled and they tell me there was no recourse,' So everyone has this same story.”
And like Kirkwood, Zimmerman believes this scam targets business owners.
“The trend is that most of the folks in that group had a business page also," Zimmerman said. "A lot of them have had some financial impact, in that they had a credit card attached to their business page and the hacker has used that credit card to buy some advertising on Facebook."
And when Zimmerman reaches out for help, she claims she is met with silence.
“There’s no dialogue. They’re not saying anything. When I try to log in again for the 1,000th time, I just get the message, 'Your account has been disabled and the decision can not be reversed.' There is no way to escalate that to say, 'Wait I minute, I didn’t post anything that went against community standards,'” Zimmerman said. “We can’t get any help. I filed a complaint with the FTC, with the FBI Internet Crimes Center. I sent something to the California attorney general and to the Texas attorney general trying to get some attention and help with this. And no one seems to care.”
Kirkwood is equally frustrated, stating her business relies on its Facebook account.
"I don’t want people to think that all a sudden, she’s just gone MIA," Kirkwood said. "I do have a lot of open orders, so I don’t want people to think that they’ve ordered something and they’re not going to get it because I don’t exist. Which isn’t the case."
Now, Kirkwood has a few tips to offer for others who use Facebook, especially business owners.
“Change your passwords. It probably took an hour and a half just to go through and change all of ours. Venmo, Paypal, our bank accounts, everything. Even my kids. Just because, you know, we do have two-factor authentication on my account. But they were still able to get that," Kirkwood said. “Just change your password as frequently as possible. Don’t use the same one. I feel like if they want to come after you, they’re going to find a way. That’s the thing. Just be aware of it and vigilant, and try to do as much as you can if it does happen to you.”
To learn more about Blush or to view its new Facebook page, click here.
“I’ve got a great group of girls here that have been really supportive. They’ve been sharing the link, inviting their friends. Taryn, who owns Belle en Blanc , has been amazing with sharing it on her page as well. She’s got a great following," Kirkwood said. "So having the support of friends and family and customers has been huge. So yeah, very grateful for that.”
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