In recent years, scammers have flocked towards social networking sites as they have grown and made it easier to access a large number of potential eyeballs to convert into dollars. Brands have found value in leveraging social media to know what their customers are talking about, so, naturally, scammers are doing the exact same thing.
Free iPads and iPhones
Every time Apple unveils a new iPad or iPhone, you can bet there are scammers out there trying to leverage the announcement for financial gain. In the days leading up to and after the announcement of the new third-generation iPad, Twitter users who tweet about the new tablet most likely will receive some targeted Twitter replies from scammers offering the new device for free:
Many of the links are often masked behind URL shortening services. These links actually lead to affiliate pages asking for personal information, such as email address and shipping information. However, some scammers have also begun to send users to instructional videos on YouTube. The videos guide users through a step-by-step process to get their free iPad or iPhone. Scammers then use the video description section to link to the affiliate pages:
Users can report these videos to YouTube by flagging them as inappropriate and selecting the "scams / fraud" option under the Spam category.
Free gift cards
Another common lure that scammers use on social networkers is to offer free gift cards. For instance, any time a user mentions particular brands on Twitter, scammers target them with Twitter replies enticing free gift cards:
Some of the brands presented in these scams include retailers of consumer electronics, women’s intimate apparel, and a large discount department store.
The above set of scams have relied on fake accounts posting links which lead to affiliate branded pages. For example, we saw scammers sending users to YouTube to follow a how-to video (likely a consequence of social networking sites improving their detection mechanisms to weed out direct links to these scams before they have a chance to see the light of day).
Recently, however, scammers are using a new trick to evade detection.
Fake promotional user accounts
Unlike the previous examples, where a Twitter user posts about a certain brand and receives a targeted reply with a link, users are now being directed to fake branded Twitter accounts:
Instead of seeming like a scam link, this message now looks more like it is part of a conversation with an actual (and clickable) brand. In the above example, a user posted about the Macy's brand and, in reply, that user receives a Twitter reply directing them to what claims to be an official account for Macy's:
Read the fine print
Misleading users, of course, is the goal of these scam campaigns. Not only are the brands misrepresented here, but the affiliate programs these scammers are part of state only in the fine print what someone can expect when responding to these offers:
The fine print (red box above) reads:
[Site] is an independent rewards program and not associated with any of the above listed merchants or brands. The above listed merchants or brands in no way endorse or sponsor [Site]’s offer and are not liable for any alleged or actual claims related to this offer. The above listed trademarks and service marks are the marks of their respective owners. [Site] is solely responsible for all Gift fulfillment. In order to receive your gift you must: (1) Meet the eligibility and (2) complete the rewards bonus survey (3) complete a total of 5 Rewards Offers as stated in the Terms & Conditions (4) not cancel your participation in more than a total of 2 Reward Offers within 30 days of any Reward Offer Sign-Up Date as outlined in the Terms & Conditions (the Cancellation Limit) and (5) follow the redemption instructions.
The "Rewards Offers" listed in the fine print includes signing up for a trial membership to various subscription services as well as making qualifying purchases. So, after all is said and done, the free iPad and the free Starbucks Gift Card isn’t free after all.
If you are a Twitter user and you receive replies from suspect Twitter accounts promising you something for free, protect yourself and others by reporting the account to Twitter as shown below:
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