There's a huge Facebook scam going on right beneath our noses. It doesn't involve malware, phishing emails or hackers. Nope, this scam relies on millions of fake accounts that businesses, celebrities and other personalities can use to artificially inflate the "likes" on their pages and make money.
There are rooms of full of people in countries like the Philippines, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and those people's sole job is to create fake online profiles on social media websites. These "click farms" can then sell those profiles to businesses and other entities that want to falsely inflate their "likes" on Facebook.
For all Facebook knows, these profiles are real. The click farmers use sites like Fake Name Generator to create believable names and back stories for their fake profiles. They then farmers create real email addresses for the profiles and verify them by cellphone using various SIM cards. They even comb through dating websites to find photos for the profile photos.
Why would businesses pay click farms to generate fake likes? Because social media is one of the single easiest ways for brands to directly influence consumers these days.
In 2005, Facebook had 5.5 million users; at the end of 2014, it claimed 1.4 billion active monthly users — a little less than half of all people with internet access.
Social media is big business. Celebrities can make thousands of dollars for tweeting out a single endorsement, and Facebook spam as a whole was worth between $87 million to $390 million in 2013. So, many people will pay click farms to boost their online popularity, so they can make money from advertisers. Plus, search engines like Google look at social media influence, so boosting likes and followers could boost ranking in search engine results.
Rapper 50 Cent, Paris Hilton, LeAnn Rimes, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and more have been linked to click farms in the past.
Why is this bad for you? It's basically online fraud. When you log on to your social media accounts and see that a business, celebrity or other personality has lots of likes, you assume that real people are endorsing those pages. That can lead you to trust a company or purchase its products. But, due to click farms, those likes could be fraudulent. It can also hurt businesses that are trying to promote their pages the right way on Facebook, because they'll likely have fewer followers than pages that purchase likes.
In fact, Facebook estimates that around 7% of the 1.4 billion accounts on Facebook are fake!
There's another problem. Click farms are hard to shut down because, while they do violate Facebook's code of conduct, they aren't necessarily breaking the law in the countries where they operate. So, it's up to you to remain suspicious of companies and personalities that become social media sensations overnight.
What [click farmer Richard] Braggs and click-farm managers are doing is not illegal in the Philippines. Facebook's terms of service are not international law. "Click farming raises serious consumer protection questions," said Ian Ayres, a professor at Yale's law and business schools.
And, Facebook isn't the only site that click farmers are taking advantage of. They're generating fake followers and endorsements on a range of other sites like Twitter, Yahoo, Gmail, Tinder and more.