When sense and sensibility go out of the window

Stuart Fuller

Once again, last week I saw with my own eyes how easily otherwise rational people can be duped by the promise of ‘something for nothing’ on social media. Quite why someone − and I include some of my friends in this − would fall for a ‘competition’ on Facebook that contained poor grammar and even poorer spelling is beyond me. Yet over 27,000 people had jumped in with both feet when I first saw the advert on my Facebook timeline.

The advert in question was to win one of two Range Rover Sports – well, at least that’s what I’m sure it was supposed to say. What it actually said was that two people would win a “Range- Rover sport 2016”. To stand a ‘change’ (sic) of winning one, all you had to do was:

  1. Like the page
  2. Like and share the post
  3. Comment on what color you want.

In addition to over 27,000 ‘likes’, over 17,000 had added comments, and none of the ones I read suggested that people believed it was a hoax.

So why do normal, rational people in the real world become so gullible on social media? One reason could be that they trust what appears on their timeline; they may believe that Facebook would never allow any fake or scam items to appear and so anything that appears is considered genuine.

Alas, in this instance, there would be no “winner messaged on public via our fan page” on 9th October. The fact that a company with revenues of over £19 billion would publish something online with such poor spelling and grammar should set alarm bells off, as well as the simple question: “Why?” Why would Jaguar Land Rover, the parent company of Range Rover, simply give away two cars, worth over £50,000 each, for no reason? What would it gain from such a competition?

When it comes to social media competitions, if it looks too good to be true it almost certainly is. But what’s in it for the people behind the scam? After all, in this instance all they’re asking individuals to do is ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘comment’ on a Facebook page. They’re not taking the user off to an external site, where personal details could be harvested or, even worse, malware injected onto the user’s machine.

The practice is known as ‘like-farming’. The goal is simply to increase the value of their Facebook pages or fan groups so that they can sell on the data to a third party who may well have more sinister motives. The more likes and engagement via sharing and/or comments a page has, the higher the resale value is. Although such activity is against the Facebook Terms of Service, it doesn’t stop organizations doing it − more than likely using the dark web to promote their offerings.

One motive for someone buying the data is to further mine for personal information. Consider the scenario where the new owner of the page adds a link that shows who has won the prize; all you need to do is click on the link. You enter some information to prove it’s you (Facebook username and/or password perhaps), then CONGRATULATIONS!!!! YOU HAVE WON A CAR. All you now need to do is pay an admin fee and for delivery... Of course, that’s a worst-case scenario, but the criminals know that to get a return on their investment they only need one victim.

According to the website www.hoax-slayer.com, the past 30 days have seen Facebook like-farming scams relating to free weekend breaks at The Ritz, Disney cruises (being given away as the previous winner of a competition couldn’t go), five first-class flights on Emirates to anywhere in the world, and Toyota and Honda car giveaways. Just think about those for a minute – why would any of those major global brands give away such high-value prizes in such a way?

We’ve so far looked at the situation from the consumer or social media user, but what about from the brand holder’s side? What could or should they be doing? It’s incredibly hard for them to stay on top of everything that happens in the instantaneous world of social media, where content can be posted and shared around the world in minutes. When they do become aware of something that’s unauthorized, they should work with the social media networks to have the content removed quickly, as well as using their official channels to warn their followers. Unfortunately, the damage to a brand’s reputation can continue to stick even if they’re as much a victim as the users who fell for the hoax. The most powerful tool to combat social media scams is a formalized monitoring solution, which will provide a core foundation to a brand protection solution, and which should be considered by any ambitious brand looking to build its online presence.

But responsibility also lies with the whole digital generation. We need to be vigilant and exercise caution when we’re using social media, using the same level of prudence (if not more) than we would in our day-to-day offline lives. People do not simply give away expensive goods to random people without any quid pro quo. Remember the old adage – there is no such thing as a free lunch… or car, cruise, city break, five-star holiday or brand new iPhone.