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March 11, 2010

Facebook is a goldmine for scammers

In recent days I noticed that several of my Facebook friends had become fans of a page called “First 10,000 Fans Get a $1000 Wal-Mart Gift Card!
Just the name of the page raised a red flag in my mind. Walmart (not “Wal-Mart”) was planning to invest ten million dollars in a Facebook promotion?
So we start with an improbable typo and an unlikely premise. Out of curiosity, I clicked through to the fan page. Here is what I saw (click for larger image):

Well, there’s the “Wal-Mart” typo again. Maybe it’s just an incompetent web programmer that doesn’t know the correct spelling of his employer’s name. Like I said: improbable.
I looked through the various tabs of the fan page, looking for evidence that the page was actually sponsored by Walmart. All I found was a link to their online store website. The corporate website, by the way, makes no mention of this promotion, but that might be because Walmart was testing a viral marketing strategy (a ten million dollar test?), so I didn’t give this fact a lot of weight.
I also went to Walmart’s official Facebook page. Again, no hint of the promotion.
On the official page’s Discussions tab, there’s a thread about this “Free Gift Card” page. There, someone posted a link to an article on Walmart’s corporate website. The article warns about bait-and-switch scams that use free Walmart gift cards as the bait. After luring you in, they get down to their real business: trying to sell you magazines, or whatever.
Well, how about that?
I didn’t really have to do all of this additional research. The name of the fan page should have been the dead giveaway.
But wait! The fan page has testimonials of happy Facebook users! And it has a place where I can submit my own testimonial. Doesn’t that lend credibility to the page?
Sure, this comment panel can easily be faked, and sure, the links don’t go anywhere, but let’s set that aside for a moment and just try to submit a comment. If you enlarge the above screenshot, you can see the comment I tried to submit. After clicking the button, I got this:

Sure, whatever.
Did you hear that the latest edition of the Random House dictionary accidentally left out the word “gullible”?
Sometimes being a cynic can save you a lot of headaches.
12 March UPDATE: Here are some more instances of the “First 10,000” scam on Facebook. (If a link no longer works, it probably means that Facebook has removed the page in response to complaints)
24 March UPDATE:
28 March UPDATE:
7 April UPDATE: Great news – PC World reports that FB is aggressively taking these pages down as soon as they hear about them.  FB also has a warning on its security page.


Anonymous said...

I just got suckered in and have reported the page. Now I have to resend a new invitation showing it as a scam to all my friends...

Anonymous said...

Are people really so stupid as to fall for this crap? It's like that wave of emails assuring us all that Bill Gates wanted to give us money and all we had to do was forward on the email.