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Sucker Birthrate Increasing Steadily

March 11th, 2010

Good ol’ P.T. Barnam. He famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Oh how often I see that to be true. Then just when I’m getting a little bit of hope – the next thing hits. Love it or hate it, the Internet has been making suckers of more and more people for a good long time now.

The latest incarnation for me has just appeared in a recent “Page Invitation” on Facebook. I was invited by a friend to become a fan of the First 20,000 Fans Get a $1,000 Best Buy Gift Card!!! page. Really? Can reasonable people actually think that something like this would actually be true? You think Best Buy would spend TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS on getting Facebook fans?

Image of a Facebook invitation to become a fan

Ahhhhhh… classic! Time to party like it’s 1999 – or 1993 – or anytime on the Internet because hoaxes like these have been going around forever. I remember getting my first one via email even before there was a World Wide Web. Snopes even has a nice listing of several of the classic schemes.

So this is nothing new. But it is the first time I’ve seen this type of ploy on Facebook. Turns out it’s going strong, as this particular “fan page” has nearly 10,000 so-called fans. Ten thousand people who either actually thought this offer was real or who decided that the barrier to entry was easy and harmless enough to at least give it a shot.

And that’s the kicker.

Becoming a fan of something on Facebook seems innocuous enough. What harm can it do? Probably not much. But it does get you on a list of profiles at least. It might help people target advertising to you. It might indicate you are gullible. What else do you let people know about you through your Facebook profile? Any of that information becomes easy to get to when you join a group or become a fan of a page.

Then it’s a matter of who set up the page and why. Is it a joke or the prelude to a phishing scheme?

Facebook is just the latest breeding ground for scammers. What I see as the big difference is the inherent trust that people currently have of some communications on Facebook. It’s a community made up primarily of people you know. People you have accepted into your network voluntarily. So information coming from them should be more trustworthy, right?

Not at all.

Most people know that email can’t be trusted anymore. Even if it comes from “someone you know” most people have started to recognize the basic characteristics of strange emails. Uncle Toby usually sends questionable PowerPoint shows, not offers to save money on your mortgage. Facebook is different, though. And people don’t use the same filter on Facebook as they do for email. Not yet, anyway.

A Facebook blog post from last summer recounts that phishing and spam are at an all-time high. Please – always use your best judgement and think about what’s being presented to you as an offer online. The medium makes no difference.

Be careful out there.


Ed. Note: Barnam may not be the originator of the actual quote, but since everyone basically thinks he did, it sounded better in writing. Plus – I did say “famously” and not “actually.” See? Gotta watch what you read online…

3 Comments

  1. Sean Bryan says:

    Brian,

    I voiced my frustration on this to a close friend the other day after I received at least a dozen invites for this particular group. As you have pointed out, Best Buy wouldn’t be spending $20 million for people to become fans of free gift cards (Really, who isn’t a fan of those?).

    What is it with people expecting something for nothing these days? Why is it the generation that “democratized information” using the internet can’t seem to perform a simple Google search to check authenticity?

    Another scam making the rounds via Facebook messages is Fortune High Tech Marketing — a modified pyramid scheme many a poor soul have invested in. I receive these messages from professionals I look up to! I can only imagine how I would react if they represented my business interests and sent me some scam.

    Luckily I haven’t been hounded to join a scam/group. I don’t know what the etiquette would be in that situation to save face for both parties.

    Let’s exercise some judgement out there!

  2. Brian Wetjen says:

    Sean – I couldn’t agree more. And I don’t know what to do about it, either. I have one uncle who at least knows what Snopes is, but I still get plenty of heartwrenching stories from him about how forwarding an email will help a cancer-ridden child achieve his greatest dream in the world. Education can hopefully help, but I think the deal is that it’s just so EASY to click or forward that people don’t think about any implications.

    Keep fighting the good fight! And maybe we need to start a Facebook fan page for People Who Know Better Than To Click On All The Too Good To Be True Things Out There.

  3. Pingback: Do you like phishing? - The Little Advisor

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