If you're a regular Facebook user, you probably spend a lot of time clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook updates in your newsfeed, often just to acknowledge that you’ve seen them.
It may seem pretty innocuous to like everything your friends share, but Facebook scammers are taking advantage of this reflex action to harvest your personal details to sell on to others, commit fraud and help spread viruses and other forms of malware.
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Facebook like scams
It’s estimated that more than 11% of Facebook profiles are fake, with countless hoax posts clogging up users’ newsfeeds. There are numerous types of scams doing the rounds on Facebook but one of the most common is like-farming.
For example, in March 2016 Facebook was hit with a series of scam posts promoting a series of events named ‘Summer Safari WaterPark 2016’. Encouraging people to like, share and express their interest, this fake event posting is an example of like-farming designed to collect users’ personal details.
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What is like-farming?
Like-farming refers to attention-grabbing posts made by scammers, in order to get as many likes or shares as possible in the shortest amount of time.
As Facebook’s algorithms work on popularity – measured by how many likes and shares a post has – a highly-liked post stands more chance of appearing in other people’s newsfeeds and so be seen by vast numbers of people.
Once the page has enough likes and shares, the scammer then either replaces the post’s content with something else – often malware or scam advertising – or sells the highly-liked page to a company that wants an instant fan base with a huge number of followers. The ‘likes’ are deemed as traffic for their new Facebook page, which translates to lots of ad revenue for the company.
Worse still, the page can be sold to cybercriminals who are looking to steal personal details to commit identity theft.
You may see evidence of like-farming by looking through your history of liked posts – telltale clues are posts that you’ve liked that have now turned into endorsements for things you’ve never heard of.
Read our guide to staying safe on social media websites
How do like-scams work?
Like-farming posts camouflage themselves to look innocent. Many involve emotional appeals, asking you to like and share to show that you hate cancer or support a child with a terminal disease or take a stand against animal cruelty.
Others will claim to offer gifts and prizes of money-off coupons, free gift cards or valuable electronic gadgets, such as iPhones and iPads, to people who like and share a post.
Typically, having liked such a post, you’ll be taken to a fake website purposely set up to harvest your personal information or asked to download something that will be malware. Needless to say, the gift or prize never materialises.
There is a darker side to like-farming. Some include links to phishing sites, designed to fool you into parting with passwords, bank details and identity information that can be used to steal money from accounts.
Many like-farming scams also hijack legitimate charity appeals, repurposing pictures of people struggling with serious illness for their own ends, which causes distress and upset to the people in the photos.
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Seven tips for avoiding Facebook scams
1. Think twice before blindly clicking ‘Like’ to every post that appears in your newsfeed, especially if it asks you to do so. As most of the people we’re connected to on Facebook are friends and family, we’ve a natural tendency to trust what people share – something that scammers rely on to make money from our actions. Look at the source of the post and avoid clicking on links or sharing posts that seems suspicious.
2. Be wary of posts promising free gifts, whether it’s free meals, drinks, or expensive electronic items, such as iPhones, iPads and PlayStations. If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s probably a like-farming scam.
3. Avoid clicking on links in posts to play a video – no matter how enticing it sounds. If you want to watch it safely, type the video’s title into Google, which should give a link to the video on YouTube or another genuine site. If it doesn’t appear, it could be a scam.
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4. Be suspicious of any app that lets you customise your Facebook profile that hasn’t been announced or supported by Facebook itself. Many users are taken in by posts that offer ways to change the look of their Facebook page, but all they do is lead people to complete fake surveys that earn scammers money.
5. Don’t click on links in posts or online advertising and never download something from a link on a Facebook post. These are often links to viruses or other forms of malicious content.
6. Quizzes, polls and games are a fun part of Facebook, but by signing up to these you may be giving the companies who create them permission to access your personal information, including email address, date of birth, and friends list. Always check what data is being asked for before accepting third party terms and conditions on Facebook.
7. Report suspicious like-farming posts. If you suspect a post is being used solely to attract traffic, report it to Facebook so it can check whether the post violates its terms and conditions. If it is a like-farming scam, Facebook will remove the post.