Think twice before you accept that surprise school reunion invite, writes Chris Schulz.
It started with a Facebook notification. A school reunion was being organised. It sounded fun, with a fancy dress party set to be held in the city where I grew up, Whanganui. I hadn’t seen some of my old school buddies for 25 years, so I gave it a click, and joined the group.
I didn’t give it a second thought. It sounded delightful.
The party was set for December 2021. Plenty of time to get organised. A whole bunch of old school friends had already signed onto the page, and as I scrolled through the names of people I hadn’t seen in years, I realised I was excited to catch up with them. So I did too.
Maybe you’re older than me. Perhaps you’ve already had your school reunion. But the thought of seeing everyone together again made me smile. I sent the page to a few old friends that hadn’t seen it yet.
I messaged one with a link and said: “Ready for a road trip?”
This all happened just a few weeks ago, in early December. Since then, the page received regular updates, posts of hilarious school photos, requests for the event to be shared as widely as possible. Updates were made. Dates were set. Nothing seemed amiss.
I didn’t question any of this. It all sounded completely and utterly reasonable. School reunions just sound like something you should be doing when you’re 42 years old.
You can probably see where this is going. In those short, balmy days between Christmas and New Year’s, when I watched Soul (fantastic!) and Wonder Woman 1984 (abysmal!), someone with quite a few more book smarts than me started questioning the event.
She asked organisers why a venue hadn’t been booked when plenty were available. After all, it’s Whanganui, and nothing much happens there. They’re probably still talking about the time The Mint Chicks played a dive bar there in the early 2000s.
She had other questions too. Why was the event being paid for by a “mysterious benefactor”, one who had asked to remain private. Who was this school reunion fairy Godfather? Why was he doing this? What was in it for him?
And where did they get those old school photos from?
She didn’t get a reply. But her post touched a nerve. All of the pages’ posts were quickly deleted. Photos were removed. The page was wiped clean.
Then she posted a message in the group, and called it a scam. “I’m pretty sure this page is a hoax,” she wrote. “When I questioned the admin about it they deleted all the comments and photos … and wouldn’t tell me who they were or who the mystery benefactor was funding the ball (funny that!).
Her questions remained unanswered.
I have to be honest, it seemed surprising. Who’d go to all this trouble? And why? No money had been requested. What was the point?
A Google search soon revealed the reason. “New Facebook scam uses high school reunions to steal cash” reads the first headline you’ll find. The WRAL News report details a fake American high school reunion with an eerily similar setup to ours. “No one could really pinpoint where it came from,” says one of the school’s former students.
Here’s how the report says the hoax works: scammers set up a fake Facebook event page and start inviting former students to join. They rely on the social media giant’s networking systems to spread the word through former students, and the more people that join the page, the more legit it looks.
Then, closer to the date, they’ll ask for money for tickets. It’s not a lot – usually just $20 or $30. There’ll be a link to a Venmo or Paypal account. If it works, the payoff isn’t huge. But if there were 200 people in your final year at school, and 100 people pay up, that’s a pretty easy $2000.
A single scammer could set up dozens of these kinds of pages in a day. You’d never run out of schools to target. That WRAL News report suggests the scam is happening “across the country”. And now, apparently, across the world. Including the tiny city of Whanganui. The city where The Mint Chicks played. Once.
So the reunion’s off. But there’s some good news: we’re going to try and organise it ourselves, without the help of a mystery benefactor. It might be on the same date, at the same time. We might even keep using the Facebook page they set up for us.
This piece was originally published on Chris Schulz’s Boiler Room Substack.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.