As a venue with a reported 400 million people sharing information with each other, Facebook is an ideal environment for running a scam.
Enticed with the idea of getting a "free" $1,000 gift card to Ikea or Walmart or Target, users are asked to sign up for (phony) fan pages that are designed to lure them off-site where they have to sign up for a dizzying series of offers. The actual deal to get the card -- if anyone indeed gets one -- involves applying for credit cards, signing up for subscriptions and joining clubs (for a monthly fee). Be prepared to withstand a mighty barrage of spam if you do sign up.
Few people believe they actually could fall these sorts of things. But people sign up by the thousands because they think they can get something for nothing. It's done over and over again for a reason: People fall for it.
The companies names are the drivers of the traffic -- and the lure of free money -- but none of the offers are affiliated with the companies. This is hardly the only successful lure. Others have been drawn in playing games on Facebook, where they are subjected to advertising that got them into similar jams, even paying real money to get the fake money for the games.
Facebook says it's tuned in to the abuse that can take place on its pages and is doing what it can to both take them down as quickly as possible and to alert users to the warning signs.
"Protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and scams is a top priority for us," a Facebook spokesman told WalletPop. "Groups and pages that attempt to trick people into taking a certain action or spamming their friends with invites violate our policies, and we have a large team of professional investigators who quickly remove these when we detect them or they're reported to us by our users."
He noted that two of the spots where Facebook posts warnings are its own fan page, with nearly 8 million fans and its security page, which has more than 1.6 million fans.
The company warns users to be particularly leery of any group or page with an exceedingly tempting offer -- particular if it asks you to invite all your friends first or provide personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission, which polices this sort of thing, tends to get involved when a lot of people fall prey or the practice continues.
Mary Engel, associate director of advertising practices at the FTC, suggests that those who feel duped by one of these offers lodge a formal complaint.
"It is deceptive to mislead consumers about the terms of an offer," she said in an interview. She added that attracting people to sign up for something by leading them to believe something is free when it isn't is a particular concern.
Engel said she couldn't comment specifically about the marketing companies that have been using this tactic, but noted the FTC had brought similar cases in the past. A company called Aderactive paid $650,000 in 2007 to settle allegations it was offering items including Sony Playstations for "free" when the conditions for getting the item including signing up for a collection of offers.
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