The holidays are upon us, so you’re probably doing some online shopping to complete the endless gift list. Be extra careful this holiday season, as the number of thieves targeting online shoppers is incredibly high. Tap or click here for eight ways to avoid holiday shopping scams.
But online shopping isn’t the only way criminals target you this holiday season. A clever new scheme is making the rounds on Facebook, and it’s very tricky. Scammers post stories that tug at your heartstrings, hoping you share them with others. Then they get to work.
Read on to find out how this devious scheme works, and we’ll give you a few ways to avoid falling victim.
Here’s the backstory
There is no shortage of good samaritans on social media. Many people share posts about others in need, try to raise funds for a charity around their birthday or offer to help with everyday tasks.
In one such example, a user posted on Facebook about a puppy that was hit by a car. According to the post, the dog is in critical condition but showing signs of recovery. The poster is desperately looking for the owner in the Saltillo, Mississippi, area.
But there is one significant problem. The post is entirely fake. According to USA Today, nearly identical posts have been showing up on Facebook over the last few weeks. Some of the fake posts have over 500 shares.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says once the heartbreaking post gets enough shares, scammers use a bait-and-switch tactic. The lost pet, missing child, or whatever sad story they posted is edited into a deceptive rental ad or sometimes to a link pointing to a survey that guarantees a cash prize.
Now, your friends believe you recommended that content. These bait-and-switch ads aim to either get a deposit for a rental property before the renter gets a chance to see the home or get your personal information, which could lead to identity theft.
There are many variations of these schemes, but they all have one thing in common. They use emotional stories to get you to share them on your Facebook page. You might even see these posts in Facebook Marketplace since a sense of community is already built in.
Another trick to watch for is that scammers turn off comments for their posts. That way, anyone who discovers it’s a ruse won’t be able to warn others.
How to avoid Facebook bait-and-switch ads
Be careful if you see an emotional plea on Facebook or another social media site from someone you don’t know. It could lead to one of these bait-and-switch scam ads.
To raise awareness and help you avoid falling victim, the BBB offered the following safety tips:
- Do a bit of research before resharing a post on your profile. Read the information carefully and look at the profile of the person who created and shared the original post. If the profile is from Florida but shared the post in a Canadian group, it may be a red flag of a bait-and-switch publication.
- Find out when the poster created the Facebook profile. Scammers create new profiles when their old one gets banned. If you click on their profile, it will tell you how long they have been a group member. You can find additional information on their public profile.
- You should see it in the news. If a child goes missing or a tragedy occurs, you’ll most likely see it on different news outlets or shared by law enforcement, not on a random social media post.
- Do a reverse image search on Google. That will allow you to determine if the pictures you saw were used on other ads or websites in different cities. Tap or click here for steps to do a reverse image search on Android. Tap or click here for steps to do a reverse image search on iPhone.
- Find similar posts. Copy and paste the text from the post into Facebook’s search tool to see if other posts with the exact text and different pictures show up.
- If you suspect a post is a scam, report it to Facebook.
If you’ve run into a scam like this, help others by filing a report at BBB.org/ScamTracker.