We’ve all seen the eye-catching posts before on our Facebook feeds. A heart-wrenching story of a sick baby suffering from some terrible medical condition who needs help.
By “liking” the story, you can help raise the money the parents need to get a special procedure. Or maybe “one share = one prayer,” for the poor child. Sometimes, all that’s asked is a simple “amen” in the comments section in response to a prayer for its health. But while you think you’re doing a good thing for a baby in need, you’re actually falling right into a trap set by professional scammers.
Before you "like" any of those heart-wrenching posts on Facebook — read this first.
But what’s more harmless than a “like,” you might ask? All you’re doing is simply expressing your support for a worthy cause, right? Unfortunately, the world is full of greedy and deceptive people who will use the good faith of others for their own profit.
Consumer-protection groups call these scams “like-farming,” meaning that the scammers are trying to collect as many interactions as possible, especially “likes” and “shares,” to convert them into monetary gains. But how can they do this? And what can you do to protect yourself?
1) The first way is to initially get you to like the post then go one step further and click on a link that is embedded. This could promise some kind of benefit for the cause involved or a chance to donate to it.
2) In the second version, the post itself is guaranteed to melt your heart and is harmless in and of itself. Nothing to click on, just asking for your thumbs up.
But once the scammers have achieved enough attention to move the post up in the Facebook algorithm as “trending,” they will “strip the page’s original content and use it to promote spammy products.” Now your interactions are helping them promote “free flight for a year” or “a free iPad” that they will use to lure naive users into clicking on.
3) In the final version, the scammers will build up an incredibly popular page with an heartrending story that you can’t help but share. Rather than using it to promote their own traps, they will simply sell it to other nefarious users on the black market, where fake profile pages can be bought and sold.
With all these cases, by liking a fraudulent page, you can inadvertently register yourself for spam communication, and hackers might even keep your profile on a list for future targeting.
For mom and inspirational author Courtney Westlake, it was a nightmare to discover that pictures of her baby daughter Brenna had been exploited in just such a racket.
Brenna was born with ichthyosis, a rare, incurable condition in which her skin “pulls so tightly across her body that her fingers and toes are permanently shortened, her eyelids were flipped inside out, and her nose and ears were almost completely covered by skin.”
As she wrote in a warning on her website, “we didn’t know it was being used until some of our Facebook followers alerted us, and we definitely did not give permission.” Meanwhile, the post with the stolen picture of Brenna had garnered 23,000 likes!
As Westlake told her readers: “when it comes to posts like this, one share does NOT equal one prayer. One like does NOT mean you think the baby with a physical disability or difference is ‘still cute.’ One comment does NOT mean the sick child or abused puppy ‘will be saved.'”
You know those "help us reach a million Likes" posts? Here's why you should never like them.
So what should you do to avoid these scams? As is always the case, if something sounds too good to be true, it most definitely is. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where simply typing “amen” will magically raise money for a sick child.
When in doubt, just keep scrolling. You’re not “heartless,” as the page might tell you; you’re just being sensible.