Facebook, the popular social networking site, has recently been hit with a wave of new scams in the form of gift card offers that are simply too good to be true. Though these phony gift cards have previously been seen in both spam emails and misleading internet ads, the rapid ascension of Facebook and the vast number of users it attracts who lack significant internet experience make this a scam worth examining further.
Facebook is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. According to a recent article by Slate magazine’s technology guru, Farhad Manjoo, “Facebook is staggeringly popular.” Mr. Manjoo goes on to compare its growth curve to the critical mass moment of a nuclear chain reaction. The numbers used to back up this claim: 400 million worldwide regular users and the fact that new users are expanding at an ever increasing rate. These aren’t just passive users though, people on Facebook are active. The article notes that Facebook users share 25 billion links to other websites with each other monthly. This fact alone means that a well-placed scam can go viral and rapidly expand its base of potential victims in a manner of days.
The most recent scam to hit Facebook has been a rash of fan pages that offer gift cards of varying values. A fan page is an important part of the new corporate advertising trends of social media campaigns. When a Facebook user becomes a fan of a corporation or product it is broadcast to all of their friends who then in turn become fans which is broadcast to a whole new network of friends and so on. The pages themselves can act as a hub for the corporate entity which will re-direct its fans to the official website and also allows the company to post any sales or special events directly to the fans’ Facebook pages.
The scams come in the form of fan pages that appear to be official, but in fact, are not. A gift card is often the bait used to hook potential victims. In an article for IDG News Service, Robert McMillen tells of a fan page set-up to look like it was affiliated with the consumer electronics store Best Buy. A message came offering a $1,000 gift certificate to the first 20,000 to click through and become a fan of the company. Mr. McMillen easily figured out this was a scam. His reasoning was pretty simple, why would Best Buy want to spend $20 million dollars to acquire 20,000 Facebook fans?
Most major corporations already have Facebook pages that number fans in hundreds of thousands to millions. Coca-cola has over 5 million fans on its page and Best Buy, who a scammer would have you believe was willing to spend $20 million on 20,000 new fans, already counts over 1 million Facebook users who have signed up. The pages can be convincing though, with realistic graphics and phony posts from other “users” claiming to have already redeemed their prize.
When Facebook users do become fans though, they are normally provided with a link on the fan page they are asked to click-through in order to claim the gift card. Often these offers come with a ticking clock aspect, “Only the first 20,000!” or “Offer only valid for 48 hours!” When the victim clicks through they are directed to the website of an affiliate marketing company that will continue to inundate the user with offers in an effort to collect information and re-direct web advertising traffic. Often after going through several minutes of multiple screens, the user will be informed they have to sign up for an online marketing offer from a different company in order to receive the gift card. The only problem is, there is no truth in this advertising as no gift card is ever coming. Although at this point the company has collected your email and home address, and has asked you enough questions about which products interest you that you can expect to receive plenty of unsolicited advertising in the future.
More scurrilous fraudsters will also push for personal information. Caroline McCarthy of CNET reported of a scam from late March which promised $500 gift cards from Whole Foods. After adding the fan page, thereby promoting the scam to the victim’s entire network of friends, they were asked to provide all types of personal information going so far as to have them fill out a credit assessment. This is just another form of “phishing” which we have covered before on Scamraiders. Once the forms were complete, a form of malware, dangerous viral software, was unknowingly loaded onto the victim’s computer and they experienced a crash, leaving their online banking and credit cards completely vulnerable.
Whole Foods spokeswoman Libba Letton told CNET the company was working with Facebook to remove the scam, but as they are being removed “they keep popping up.”
This is a problem with these scams. The gift card scams first came into the limelight in early March with a $500 Ikea gift card offer that roped in more than 70,000 fans before being taken down by Facebook. Just this month another Ikea gift card scam fooled some 40,000 people.
Robert McMillen wrote a follow-up article, explaining the most-recent Ikea gift card scam in detail. The $1,000 gift card was available for those who promoted Ikea to their friends and it was a one day promotion. After becoming a fan and inviting their friends, the victim was directed to a marketing page where they were “asked personal information such as name, address, date of birth and home telephone number.” In order to receive the gift card, the user was then forced to sign up for a legitimate online marketing offer from either CreditReport.com or Netflix.com. No gift card was ever mailed.
Although less than a month earlier Facebook had pulled a similar page after 70,000 fell victim, by mid-day of its initial appearance the fan page had taken in over 37,000 victims and was gaining 5,000 new fans per hour by the time it was shut down.
Facebook spokesman Simon Axten told Mr. McMillen via email that the company was currently developing an automated system to scan and remove these bogus pages before they go viral. Currently, they employ a small team of engineers to find, identify and remove the offending pages. Obviously, an automated system will be a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, if you are part of the social network scene and are offered a gift card to become a fan of a major chain store or corporation, take a good long look. If the page is legitimate its going to already have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fans and have direct links to the company website. If the offer is legitimate you aren’t going to inundated with multiple requests to sign up for other companies products or services, and if you are asked for any personal information – don’t give it. These Facebook fan page gift card offers might sound good, but the actual cost could end up far exceeding the potential reward.