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How Scammers On Facebook Are Tricking People Into Investing In Bogus Schemes: Report

According to a BBC reporter, fake news articles in their template are being published on Facebook
Photo illustration of the Facebook logo | Getty Images | Photo by Chesnot
Photo illustration of the Facebook logo | Getty Images | Photo by Chesnot

Scammers are increasingly using social media to steal from their unsuspecting victims. While phishing scams, identity theft financial fraud schemes spread like wildfire on social media, the problem of fake news and misinformation has been particularly difficult to deal with. Now, a new misinformation campaign on Meta-owned Facebook is trying to fool people into investing in bogus cryptocurrency schemes, the BBC has found.


According to the BBC's technology reporter, Jane Wakefield, fake news articles in the organization’s template are being published on Facebook under the names of their authors. Fraudsters are trying to get people to click through to the full article, hoping that they will be lured into the investment scheme being promoted on the page.

Wakefield launched an investigation into the matter after coming across fake articles published under her name. In her report, she mentions the case of a retiree from Buckinghamshire, UK, who lost £250 (approximately $312) to a fake advert on Instagram, which is also owned by Meta.

The victim clicked on a fake ITV article in which presenter Robert Peston (a scammer pretending it was him), promoted an investment opportunity that he had come across. The victim, being a fan of Peston and the ITV brand trusted the ad and decided to invest.

Representative photo illustration of a girl browsing through Facebook | Getty Images | Photo Illustration by Chris Jackson
Representative photo illustration of a girl browsing through Facebook | Getty Images | Photo Illustration by Chris Jackson

Apart from paying the money, the victim also sent pictures of her passport, and both sides of her credit card to the scammers, after which she started getting phone calls from people with American accents, telling her that the money was growing.

The victim became suspicious when the callers started asking her about her income and savings, and about future investments. Upon contacting their bank, the victim was able to get the money back, but the scammers continued to call her.

For her report, Wakefield contacted Tony Gee, a senior consultant at cybersecurity firm Penn Test Partners who found out that one of the scam pages was most likely a paid-for Facebook advert. Gee observed that the URL had a unique value that Facebook adds to allow it to track outbound clicks, which indicates that it may be an advertisement.

When Wakefield brought this to the attention of Meta, she was told that the ads had been removed. Upon investigating further, the reporter found out how these ads were posted. Prof Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey, told BBC that criminals use tools that quickly redirect users to another web page.

The link goes through to a harmless page, to get approval from Facebook, and then the fraudsters put on a redirect that instantly takes people somewhere else, possibly a con page. Prof Woodward adds that the fraudsters can easily and quickly change the destination of the redirect as needed.

This type of fraud is called "cloaking", whereby malicious adverts are able to get past a social media firm's review stage by cloaking their intentions with a harmless page.  However, the BBC report also mentions that Meta has learned about this technique and is improving its automated detection systems.

Meanwhile, Meta has put out some guidelines for users to stay safe.


Here are Meta’s Safety Guidelines For Protection Against Fake Articles

As per Meta’s blog, false news stories typically have catchy headlines making shocking claims. Thus, if users come across articles with headlines that are too good to be true, they probably are, Meta says.

A fake article may contain an altered link that mimics the URLs of authentic news websites. They make small changes to the link which typically go unnoticed, and readers can catch them by comparing the links with authentic sources.

Meta recommends verifying information with authentic sources, and websites. In case a story comes from an unfamiliar organization, it may be best to not trust it.

Several fake news sites may contain misspellings or awkward layouts which is a giveaway for readers. Meta recommends readers to look for such signs and stray clear of those articles.  

False news stories often carry manipulated images or videos of celebrities or reputed individuals to gain credibility. Sometimes even authentic photos are also used but taken out of context. Readers can do a reverse image search to where the source of it.

False news stories come from timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered. Thus, if no other news source is reporting the same story, it may be a fake article.