Facebook like farming scams

Like-farming Facebook scams: Look before you “like”

If you’re a regular Facebook user, you’re pretty much guaranteed to run across lots of “like-farming” scammers – maybe without ever even realizing it.

At best, these like-farming pages clutter your friends’ feeds, crowding out content they actually want to see (and possibly making them annoyed with you, for drowning their feeds in such noise); at worst they put your personal information in the hands of unscrupulous marketers, or help spread dangerous computer viruses and other forms of malware.

But what is like-farming? Facebook policy forbids it, though of course scammers and con artists by definition tend not to follow the rules. Like-farmers start pages and fill them with content dedicated to collecting as many “likes” or “shares” as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Since Facebook’s algorithms place a high value on popularity (as measured by likes and shares), these highly liked and shared pages therefore have a much higher chance of appearing in people’s “Feeds” and being seen by other Facebook users.

Then, once the page has a sufficiently high popularity rating, the like-farmer either removes the page’s original content and replaces it with something else (usually malware or scam advertising); leaves the page as is and uses it as a platform for continued like-farming in order to spread malware, collect people’s marketing information or engage in other harmful activities; or outright sells the highly liked site to cybercriminals in a black market web forum.

Appeals to emotion

How do like-farmers lure people into liking or sharing their content? As with any scam, it appears in multiple forms.

Many like-farmers rely on appeals to emotion: anytime you’re urged to “like” or “share” a post that pulls at your heartstrings or pushes your buttons, there’s likely a like-farmer behind it. “This poor little girl with cancer lost her hair to chemotherapy — ‘like’ this post to let her know she’s still beautiful!” “This new government policy is outrageous — ‘like’ this post if you’re outraged, too!”

Confession: I fell for a couple such like-farming scams myself, back when I was still new to Facebook. And I didn’t even realize it until a couple weeks ago, when I went on a nostalgia-crawl though my old Facebook “activity log” and was appalled to see that back in 2010 or so, I’d allegedly “liked” a couple pages advertising some scammy pseudo-scientific quack medications.

But of course I never “liked” any such nonsense; I’d actually “liked” posts shared by various friends of mine – probably posts to the effect of “’Like’ to let this little bald girl know she’s beautiful!” or “’Like’ if you’re outraged by this new policy!” – and only later, after the page collected enough “likes” for a high Facebook popularity ranking, did the page owner scrub the original content and replace it with ads for scam products.

Valuable prizes

Not all like-farmers rely on appeals to emotion, though. Others will claim to offer valuable prizes to people who “like” or “share” a post; those posts you see promising the chance to win a free Macbook or latest-gen iPhone, free chain-store gift card or some other valuable freebie are pretty much guaranteed to be scams.

Last week, for example, the anti-scam website Hoax-Slayer issued an alert about a fraudulent Facebook page promising to give away 100 Macbook laptops: all you have to do is like and share the post, and specify whether you want a white or black one.

The “Fans of Mac” page has 22,925 “likes” in the screenshot Hoax-Slayer included in its alert; as of this writing, that number had grown to 25,660. The “About” section says that Fans of Mac is “Facebook’s LARGEST and most vibrant Apple community with worldwide fans! If you LOVE Apple … then join us today!”

Yet the page contains no posts from fans discussing the pros and cons of the latest Apple iThing, nor even links to media coverage of the latest iThings. There are, as of press time, only eight posts visible on the entire page, and every single post claims to offer valuable free iStuff to people who like and share it. A post from April 7 claims “We have got 100 boxes of Macbooks that can’t be sold because they have been unsealed. Therefore we are giving them away for free. Want one of them? Just Share this photo & Like our page.”

Even by the standards of fake-free-stuff postings that makes no sense: since when does Apple or any other tech company have the policy “If the packaging on our expensive new latest-gen products becomes ‘unsealed,’ those products cannot be sold or even destroyed; we’ll just give ’em away for free”? They don’t.

Unsurprisingly, if you scroll a bit further down the Fans of Mac page you’ll see the exact same post on Nov. 25, 2014: “We have got 100 boxes of Macbooks that can’t be sold because they have been unsealed. Therefore we are giving them away for free….”

No free iPhones

The first post on that page is dated Sept. 23, barely two weeks after Apple unveiled its then-new iPhone6, and it said: “We have got 10 boxes of iPhone 6’s that can’t be sold because they have been unsealed. Therefore we are giving them away for free.” (Coincidentally, Sept. 23 is also the day we here at ConsumerAffairs published an article headlined: “Watch out for these iPhone6 scams; nobody’s giving free phones away over Facebook or email, either.”)

Anytime you see a Facebook post offering free valuable items in exchange for “Likes” and “Shares,” you’re almost certain to find a similarly scammy Facebook page behind it.

Still other like-farming posts are high-tech variants of the old chain-letter scam, promising good though vague results if you forward the post. Just this week, one of my own Facebook “friends” shared a photo showing thick stacks of $20 and $100 bills, over a caption reading “Money will come to you sometime this month say Amen and Share” . As of this writing, that one single photo and caption has 14,441 “likes” and 284,926 “shares.”

Another insidious form of like-farming presents itself almost as a religious duty: “’Share’ this post if you’re willing to publicly proclaim that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!” (Consider: even if you need to share your faith on Facebook — why would you need to “share” that particular post, rather than simply write your own announcement on your Wall?)

Just clickbait

A close cousin of like-farming might better be called “response farming,” or just clickbait: posts designed solely to elicit a response. It differs from like-farming in that like-farming is done by actual scammers, whereas response-farming is usually promoted by actual companies to increase their Facebook popularity rankings. Look at the promotional Facebook page of a typical genre-music FM radio station, for example, and you’re almost certain to see lots of response-farming memes.

One such meme that’s been around since at least early 2013 involves asking a ridiculously easy question, usually followed by commentary suggesting the question is actually quite difficult:

Can you name a band that

has no letter “T” anywhere

in their name?

This is harder than you

think!

Post your answers below,

and share with friends.

Most people think they can

do this but fail, can you do

it?

Or this:

Name a ‘FISH’

That does not

have the LETTER

‘A’ in it.

I bet you can’t 😉

Some of these non-challenging intelligence tests came from like-farmers, but most were local-radio or business clickbait — still driving up like-counts and cluttering your friends’ Facebook feeds, but at least they won’t likely spread malware or put money in a scammer’s pockets the way like-farming pages do.

If you’re going through your own old Facebook archives and discover you’ve “liked” a scammy page you don’t recognize, you can send Facebook a scam report for that page, and then click the “unlike” button to remove your own name from it.

It’s not an uncommon sight as you’re scrolling through your Facebook news feed: a friend shares a heartbreaking photo, accompanied by a post that pleads with users to “like,” “comment” or “share” in order to raise money or awareness for a person in need.

A baby with a cancerous tumor, a teen on a ventilator — these posts take various forms. But Facebook users need to be cautious, as some of the emotional posts they’re reading may not always be true. In fact, there’s a chance they’re part of a scam called “like-farming” that could put your personal data or computer security at risk.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned about the scam, which lures people into liking or sharing a fake page by claiming Facebook will donate a given sum of money for each action, back in 2015. And now, their warning is being shared anew as fake posts once again go viral.

An example of a possible “like farming” post, requesting “likes” in exchange for donations. Lakhan Gulati/Facebook

Scammers who use “like-farming” tactics can take advantage of a Facebook user’s interaction to either collect and sell information about that user or use it as a gateway to collecting more personal information — like passwords or credit card numbers.

“Once the page creators have piled up hundreds of likes and shares, they may strip the page and promote something else, such as products that they will receive commissions for selling,” the BBB explained in a statement. “They may also sell the page and information that was collected from the ‘likes’ with a more direct threat of gaining access in an attempt to gather credit card numbers that may be stored for certain Facebook apps, passwords or other personal information.”

A recent story that was circulating on Facebook, involving a 3-year-old boy, thrust the scam back into the spotlight last week.

The post, which claimed the young boy had “cancer” and “needs surgery,” garnered more than 2.1 million shares and nearly 300,000 likes — until it was finally removed for violating Facebook’s terms of service.

Sarah Allen, from St Neots, Cambridgeshire, in the U.K., told the BBC that the scammers stole photos of her son, Jasper, and made up the story about cancer. In reality, Allen said her son had severe chickenpox when the photo was taken back in August, and she only made the photos public to call on the government to make the chickenpox vaccine free.

“We were warned people might take his pictures… because if you Google chickenpox his pictures are there,” Allen told the BBC. “So, we were well aware that might happen, but not in this respect, to say he had cancer.”

Facebook confirmed to CBS News that any posts using Allen’s photos have been removed.

“These posts are clearly distressing for the families and this content has now been removed,” a Facebook spokesperson told CBS News. “We apologize for the delay in taking them down.”

Though it’s sometimes difficult to determine which posts are real and which are fake, there are a few simple clues that these “like-farming” posts have in common:

  • They claim someone has cancer or another serious disease and needs money for surgery.
  • They claim Facebook “has decided to help” by donating a certain amount of money for “likes,” “comments” or “shares.”
  • They typically ask a Facebook user to comment “Amen” at the end of the post.

So, next time you see a post with a heart-wrenching photo that catches your eye, look for these signs before responding. And if you suspect the post is a scam, report it to Facebook immediately.

Don’t click ‘like’ on Facebook again until you read this

Kim Komando Special for USA TODAY Published 5:45 PM EDT Mar 19, 2016 Facebook scammers trick people into liking and sharing certain articles. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/Getty Images

Facebook has changed the way people do a lot of things online. For example, you probably notice yourself reflexively clicking “like” on anything your friends post on Facebook, even if it’s just to acknowledge you saw it. Scammers are taking advantage of that reflex for a dangerous scam called “like-farming.”

What is like-farming?

Like-farming is when scammers post an attention-grabbing story on Facebook for the express purpose of cultivating likes and shares. Based on the way Facebook works, the more likes and shares a post has, the more likely it is to show up in people’s News Feeds.

This gives the scammer more eyeballs for posts that trick people out of information or send them to malicious downloads. The big question, of course, is why Facebook doesn’t stop these posts before they get too big. And that’s where the real scam comes in.

How the scam works

Scammers have found a simple way to fly under the radar during the early phases of their operation. The story they originally post to Facebook has nothing dangerous about it. It’s just a regular story that anyone might post. That was the warning from one local Better Business Bureau last year.

Only after the post gets a certain number of likes and shares does the scammer edit it and add something malicious. They might start promoting products or sell the page information in an attempt to get credit card data. In fact, if you go back through your history of liked posts, you might find that some of them have changed to something you wouldn’t have liked in a million years. By the way, if you’re not sure how to review your likes, click here for the step-by-step instructions.

So, what kinds of stories do scammers start with to trick people into liking and sharing?

Posts that should give you pause

One popular type of story is the emotional one. You’ve definitely seen the posts showing rescue animals and asking you to like if you think they’re cute. Or maybe it’s a medical story where you’re asked to like that the person was cured or to let them know they’re still beautiful after surgery.

There are also the posts that ask for a like to show that you’re against something the government is doing, or that you disagree with something terrible happening in the world. Or maybe it’s the ones that say “If I get X number of likes, then something amazing will happen for me” or “I was challenged to get X number of likes.”

Basically, any post that asks you to like it for emotional reasons, unless you know the person who created the original post, is quite probably a like-farm post. Of course, emotional posts aren’t the only types of post you need to watch for.

Other types of scam posts to avoid

There are a lot of scams on Facebook and most of them can be used for like-farming. A popular one, for example, is a post that asks you to like or share so you can win something cool. These pop up most often when Apple launches a new iPhone or iPad.

You might have seen recently during the huge Powerball frenzy people posting on Facebook saying anyone who likes their post will get a share of their winnings. How real do you think those were?

Just on Thursday, police in Australia warned Facebook users of a like-farming scam that attempted to lure customers of Qantas Airlines.

What about brain-teaser posts, such as the ones that have you like or share if you can read the words backwards or solve a tricky math problem? Yep, those are often like-farm posts, too.

It isn’t just posts either; it can also be pages. A scammer might set up a page for “I love puppies” or what appears to be a worthy company or organization. It puts up enough content to get a lot of likes, then switches the content to spam and scams. Once you’ve liked the page, everything new the scammers put up goes on your News Feed and, in some cases, your friends’ feeds as well.

How to avoid like-farming

Your best bet to avoid like-farming is to be very judicious about what you like and share on Facebook. Don’t just reflexively click “like” on everything. Take a look at where the post is coming from. If it’s from someone you don’t recognize, it could be a friend of a friend or it could be a complete stranger. It would be good to find out.

Notice the content and whether it promises anything for liking or sharing. If it does, it’s a good clue that it’s a scam of some kind. The same goes if you feel pushed or pressured into clicking like or share. Click here for 5 Facebook scams that continue to spread like wildfire.

Don’t forget that, in the end, minimizing your likes is more than just a good security measure. It also reduces the clutter in your friends’ news feeds, and their clutter in yours, so you can all spend more time seeing the really important posts. That’s a win-win for everyone.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Email her at [email protected]

Published 5:45 PM EDT Mar 19, 2016

GET ID THEFT NEWS

Like many great celebrities, Ellen DeGeneres is known for her generosity and gifts to her many fans. At the holidays, she tends to ramp up the effort and give high-dollar gifts to countless people. Unfortunately, the publicity surrounding these endearing episodes of her show has led to an Ellen Facebook scam.

Under the guise of The Ellen Show, fake accounts are offering sought-after prizes to social media users who jump through their hoops and fulfill their requirements. It might be commenting, sharing the post, liking it or clicking a link and filling out a form with a lot of personal information. In some cases, hoaxes of this kind have also led to financial loss when scammers move forward with their crimes. People in other scams like the Ellen Facebook scam have been asked for their personally identifiable information, complete identities and money. This holiday season—and all year long—do not be taken in by the Ellen Facebook scam, Lowe’s “tiny house” scams and other similar traps.

Remember, even commenting on a post like one to warn others that it is a scam can link your account to the scammer’s post. Instead, make your own post with a screenshot of the original if you want to get the word out and warn others. You can also report the post to Facebook or to the Group in which it was posted. Social media scams and hoaxes like the Ellen Facebook scam are a serious issue, and there is no sign that they are letting up soon. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to know how to spot the indicators. Major companies have official accounts (sometimes with a checkmark) and they do not make silly grammatical errors.

Also, stop and think about what they are really offering. When is the last time you heard of Walmart giving away $100 coupons to everyone who likes a post, or Lowe’s building houses for people but only if they respond in the nick of time? Quite simply, they do not do that. However, that does not stop unsuspecting people from interacting with the scammer and spreading the post far and wide. Be a good digital citizen and remind the people you care about that scams and hoaxes are no joke, especially this time of year.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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How to spot and avoid Facebook scams

Just like callers pretending to be from your bank, or hoax messages from strangers on WhatsApp, Facebook is also used as a way to defraud you of your money. You post a lot of personal information on Facebook which scammers would love to abuse, and they have numerous ways to part you from your hard-earned cash.

How scammers target you on Facebook

Facebook has over a billion users each month. It uses powerful software to identify groups of users based on shared interests or characteristics (like age or location) in order to suggest harmless content and adverts that the group may find attractive.

This makes the social network ideal for fraudsters wishing to find large numbers of people to target for fraudulent activity, and to identify vulnerable people or specific groups with appealing offers that are too good to be true.

Once you’ve clicked on a scam ad or message, you and your connections are more likely to be targeted again with similar fraudulent material.

If you are a carer for a vulnerable person, learn more about how you can support them to manage their money, and what support you may be eligible for.

Scams sent from Facebook friends or fan pages

Scam artists leverage the trust that you have in your friends, in popular brands or in social network founder Mark Zuckerberg by impersonating them on Facebook. For example, a recent Facebook impersonation scam used the public image of MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis on adverts to persuade people to make ‘investments’. In reality, Martin Lewis never runs adverts. People fell for the con because they trust Martin Lewis, and the scammers knew that.

Be wary of anyone, including friends, who message you out of the blue asking you to click on a link, or invest money in a get rich quick scheme. It’s worth covering your back and checking with the person or company directly to make sure it isn’t a scammer contacting you. You can do this by phoning the friend to check that it is really them writing to you, or by checking the company’s website to ensure that the deal is really from them.

How scammers can use your Facebook profile

Lots of the personal information that fraudsters need to steal your identity can be found on your Facebook profile. For example, your name, date of birth and address are enough in some cases to access your bank accounts, take out loans or take out mobile phone contracts in your name.

To minimise your exposure to this type of scam, check and update your privacy settings on Facebook. (Remember, a public profile can be viewed by anyone.) Take down photos and posts on your wall that may give away valuable personal information.

Example Facebook scams and how to protect yourself

Fake prizes

Got a message from a stranger, brand or friend telling you you’ve won a competition that you don’t recall entering? They may say that to redeem your prize, you’ll need to make a small initial payment. Once you make this, you’ll probably be asked for more, always with an elaborate story to accompany the request for cash.

If this happens to you, it’s best not to reply the initial message. If in doubt, call the friend to check that the message is legitimate. Or, check on the company’s website to see whether the competition is legitimate, and how winners will be contacted. If it’s not legitimate, report it to Facebook, and block the person contacting you.

Also be wary of competitions to win brilliant prizes that are set up by pages which are very new, or not the official brand page. They often ask you to like and share the competition to enter. At first these posts seem pretty harmless, but by clicking the ‘Like’ button, these scammers may now be able to see information they might not have been able to see before, such as your phone numbers. Some scammers sell this information on the black market.

Fake offers of products and services

Ads, messages or content in your timeline about miracle diet pills and physical enhancers are often too good to be true. Recent scams also include mainstream products such as t-shirts, concert tickets and even car insurance, where cash is paid but no product or service is received.

To protect yourself from these scams:

  • only buy from sources that you trust. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t go through with it
  • check that any ticket sellers are members of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers
  • check whether similar activity has been reported on the police ActionFraud website
  • ask to speak to the seller on the phone, on video chat or in person. It can be easier to dissemble in text-based communication like email or social media rather than on the phone or in person
  • rather than paying by bank transfer into the seller’s account, ask for a payment option such as PayPal, which may offer you more protection if it turns out to be a scam
  • use a credit card rather than a debit card for online transactions over £100 as you’ll get Section 75 protection in the event that it turns out to be a scam
  • before entering payment card details on a website, ensure that the payment website is secure: The web address should begin with ‘https://’, and display a padlock icon. Note – this doesn’t mean the website it legitimate, but that your online payment is protected.

Men in their 20s are more likely to be targeted by certain scams in this category, such as car insurance scams on Facebook. Learn how young drivers can get the best car insurance deal and reduce your premiums.

Fake profiles used for online dating

If you receive a friend request from a stranger, think twice before accepting. Several fraudulent online dating relationships begin this way, and lead to one party requesting cash from the other as part of an elaborate and emotive story.

To protect yourself:

  • change your settings so that you do not have a public profile
  • check through your friend list and unfriend or block any profiles that you don’t trust
  • if you’re already communicating with someone on Facebook, ask to speak to them on video chat or in person, with someone accompanying you. Don’t pay for their travel costs.

Extortion messages

A particularly nasty scam involves you receiving a message from a stranger suggesting that they have filmed you using your webcam, and that you need to pay to keep the footage secret.

If this happens to you:

  • don’t click any of the links in it or open any attachments
  • report the threatening message to Facebook
  • block the person from messaging you using the block button at the top of the message.

Fake media content

This type of scam is often hard to identify, as it can be a vague message about a technical topic. For example, an article, message or ad saying that your computer may be infected, or warning you about the next big thing in financial investments. It will then ask you for cash to resolve a problem or to invest in something.

To protect yourself from these scams, if you don’t understand what you’re giving money to, don’t go through with it. Remember that anyone can put adverts or content on Facebook. Go directly to an expert website on the topic, or to a larger news outlet, to check the information.

You can protect yourself online generally by keeping current on software updates on your web browser.

How to report a suspected Facebook scam

Facebook has recently put more resources into weeding out scams. You can report suspicious content to Facebook directly.

  • If you see a suspicious message, report it to Facebook by tapping the ‘Something’s Wrong’ button.
  • If you received a suspicious email supposedly from Facebook, forward it [email protected]
  • If an email or post looks strange, don’t click any of the links in it or open any attachments, and report it.
  • If someone’s bothering you, you can block, report, ignore or delete their messages.
  • If you suspect that an account is fake or impersonating someone, report it.
  • If you’ve received suspicious notifications, you can learn more about how to identify and report them.

If you’ve been the victim of scam and have sent money, then straight away call your bank and get the payments stopped. Report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online reporting tool.

How to Avoid Facebook Scams

It’s not an exaggeration to say that online social network sites have revolutionized the Web. They’re at the forefront of the Web 2.0 movement and Facebook is one of an elite few leading the charge. Every day, hundreds of people join the Web site to reconnect with old acquaintances and make new friends.

But helping people make connections with each other is just one of Facebook’s qualities. Another important element is that Facebook allows application developers to create small programs called apps (short for applications) and use Facebook as a platform. In a way, Facebook is acting like an operating system — it provides the foundation for smaller applications that tap into the social network’s resources.

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Arguably, the most important resource is Facebook’s user base. Building an app can be time-consuming and challenging; however, Facebook’s community includes millions of people, and that gives developers a built-in audience for their work. Without this audience, developers could end up working long hours, creating a program that no one sees or uses. But the nature of Facebook’s community helps developers spread their work virally. Facebook members grab the application after seeing it on a friend’s profile and soon thousands of people are enjoying the app.

Why do developers create apps? Some developers just want to create a fun application for people to enjoy. The app enhances the user experience on a social network. Others are building programs that are part of a marketing strategy — they hope the application will nudge users to purchase a particular product or subscribe to a service. A few create applications that gather data in order to create targeted advertising. And some are taking advantage of the open nature of Facebook to create malicious programs or run scams in an effort to con users or cause mischief.

How can you avoid these scams? And what should you do if you fall victim to one?