If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. That’s a lesson several Facebook users learned over the weekend.
DANVILLE – “Hey ALDI fans!” That’s how a Facebook post began on Sunday from ALDI USA, the grocery chain’s legitimate Facebook page. The rest of the message wasn’t so lighthearted.
“Looks like another Facebook scam is making its way around. We can confirm it is a scam and the page has no affiliation with ALDI,” the post continued. “We’re sorry for any confusion this may have caused!”
Glancing through the 1,000 comments that followers posted over a 24-hour period, it appeared that a fake page – which looked a lot like the real ALDI USA page – offered prizes or giveaways to those that interacted with the page.
Unfortunately, when users tried to cash in on their winnings, they gave out their information to scammers. Several users noted that the fake page attempted linking to their IP address. Others noted multiple messages from the page.
“We have been working with Facebook since yesterday to get the page taken down, but we’d love your help! Please share this post to help us spread the word and always be sure to look for the blue check mark by our name for authenticity!” the post concluded.
While ALDI had the most recent run-in with this type of scam, other businesses aren’t immune.
Every few months, “Wal-Mart” posts giveaways on their page, claiming that those who enter their information and share the post will win giftcards – except it’s a fake Wal-Mart page.
Earlier this year, Buffalo Wild Wings had a similar situation occur. The post promised 50 free wings to anyone following a series of simple steps. Unfortunately, wing lovers never received their voucher because the message didn’t come from the real Buffalo Wild Wings Facebook page.
Being cyber safe
Lt. R. Chivvis with the Danville Police Department in Danville cautioned against clicking on every Facebook giveaway that pops up on a person’s screen.
“Fake news, free giveaways, stuff like that, they all tend to be delivery messages for malware, which could be put on your computer,” Chivvis said. “The point being, if you click on a link or share something, that propagates that malware.”
Potential computer viruses aren’t the only problem with the links, though, as Lindsay LeGrand, director of communications at Virginia IT Agency (VITA), explained.
“Generally, depending on the scammers’ intentions, they are looking for personally identifiable information (PII), including your full name, address, contact information, banking information, Social Security Numbers, etc. Anything they can use to access or obtain financial data another way,” LeGrand said. “Fake giveaways and other scams all provide an avenue for scammers to leverage your information for another action. For example, they may want giveaway information to help them guess how to get into another account. In the example above, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine gathering information about someone’s favorite foods. This information just happens to be one of the most popular account recovery questions and could be used to gain access to one of your other accounts.”
As ALDI USA stated, looking for the little check mark beside a business, organization or influencer’s name often verifies online legitimacy. However, fake sites put up a convincing front. Rather than titling their page ALDI USA, scammers might list their fake page as ALDI-USA or ALDI Store – something close, but not exactly like the original.
The fake pages also oftentimes use company logos without permission, making the site appear real.
Chivvis noted that the URL often serves as a giveaway for fake giveaways. If the address bar looks strange and unrecognizable, it’s probably not real. For example, a Wal-Mart giftcard wouldn’t redirect an individual to www.12345.com.
LeGrand suggested taking the search a step further, if necessary.
“The best way to confirm legitimacy is to go directly to the company’s website to see the offer. Do not trust the link in the email, Facebook post, etc. to take you to the website,” LeGrand said. If it checks out on the site, it is safe. If you don’t see a record of it on the site anywhere and you really want to confirm, send a message to the company for verification.”
LeGrand also noted that legitimate sweepstakes never ask people to pay fees to participate or receive a prize. Additionally, “winners” should never have to pay sweepstakes taxes, handling charges, service fees, customs fees or any other kind of charges up front to receive anything they’ve won.
She further expressed that people can only win sweepstakes they’ve entered. If someone receives a winning notification from a giveaway that they don’t remember entering, LeGrand noted that’s a red flag.
While many phone scams target senior citizens, Chivvis expressed that social media-based fraudulent posts have the ability to open the playing field.
“That type of scam online, I would say anyone could fall victim for it,” Chivvis said. “It’s different from the grandparents scam or something like that, where it’s targeting seniors. I would think anyone along those lines, anyone could fall prey to something like this.”
LeGrand echoed the sentiment.
“Scammers are really tricky and have developed a knack for knowing how to best take advantage of anyone. One of the more popular tricks is to use a topic needing an immediate response. Natural disasters, health crisis, short-term sweepstakes are all approaches used to make a consumer feel like they have to participate right away. Fake sales or giveaways during the holiday season are successful for this reason,” LeGrand said. “All consumers are at risk regardless of how well you’re trained or your background. Keep your guard up at all times.”
Like phone scams, where fraudsters can improperly utilize local numbers for their mission, online scammers can use any photo they choose as their profile picture. They also select their own name, place of origin and several other features. That doesn’t mean the person – or company – is real. And it certainly doesn’t prove legitimacy for giveaways.
“One of the biggest challenges with electronic communications is the inability to verify who is on the other end of the keyboard,” LeGrand said. “The best way to communicate is to initiate contact yourself through a known trusted method. If possible, do not provide any information until you have verified the party reaching out to you.”
“You want to have your social media set up as private as you can to protect yourself,” Chivvis said.
Therefore, if people request personal information, sending it immediately shouldn’t be second nature – instead, checking the source should be the first step.
“A scammer will often ask you to verify your bank account number or credit card number,” LeGrand said. “Legitimate sweepstakes do not send wins by direct deposit, nor do they need to withdraw money from your bank or verify information using your credit card number.”
Furthermore, Chivvis strongly cautioned against sending money in the form of a pre-paid card.
“This is what we always see people falling for consistently, is they ask for pre-paid VISA cards, or something along those lines – the green dot cards. If they’re asking for anything like that, it is a scam. Don’t do it,” Chivvis said. “Never give out, not only your personal banking information – people get wise to that – but a lot of times folks will ask for pre-paid debit and credit card information and ask to pay them or transfer money. That is a scam.”
Spotting a scam
If someone thinks a scam could be taking place, Chivvis suggested they report the fraud.
“If you haven’t been a victim yet, certainly block, delete and do not click on it,” Chivvis said. “After that, if they believe they have fallen prey and they have been financially deprived, contact their local law enforcement agency.”
Furthermore, LeGrand suggested checking with the federal government on offer legitimacy at www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds or visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Chivvis suggested reporting fraud to www.reportfraud.ftc.gov
“If you wouldn’t do it in the physical world, don’t do it in the digital world,” LeGrand said. “If you met someone on the street who said they lived in your neighborhood 20 years ago and 10 minutes later asks for your Social Security Number to give you $2000, you’d be suspicious. You should use the same scrutiny and judgment in the digital world.”
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]