It’s the run up to Christmas and at the time of writing it’s only about 10 weeks until the big day. Of course this is a peak time for the e-commerce industry with record numbers of consumers expected to be surfing the Internet for the best deals around.
And of course this also means cyber scammers will be extremely prevalent over the next 2 months, trying their best to bait potential buyers with cheap or free gifts, and one prolific type of scam which is already taking off is the “free rewards scam” that is utilising social networking sites like Facebook to spread itself.
Rewards scams are essentially scams that offer freebies but first you have to sign up for certain “rewards programs” a.k.a. “affiliate schemes” or “affiliate programs” etc. They work by baiting online surfers with free gifts, such as a free gift voucher. The intrigued surfer will click the link and is then taken to a page imploring them to first sign up to the rewards program. The problem is, as we explain further down, is that most rewards programs are shady practises which harvest personal information and many scammers who initiate the scams offer free gifts that do not even exist!
For example, Facebook messages began to spread offering a free $50 voucher for popular coffee chain Starbucks. They managed to spread because the website that offered the voucher forced Facebook users into sharing it with their Facebook friends before proceeding. Once the site had been shared, a Facebook user found out they have to complete an affiliate rewards program with a cosmetics company. The rewards program required all the users personal information, including phone number, email and postal address. Such information, according to the terms and conditions, would be shared with third parties meaning the user would be spammed. The program also required the user sign up for a free trial order of cosmetics product where the user had to pay a $1.95 handling fee and would have to actively cancel after 2 weeks otherwise face hefty monthly charges. Once the rewards program has been completed, the Facebook user found out that there never was a $50 gift voucher for Starbucks, but by this time it was too late to do anything about it.
This is the website the messages link to. Notice that users must first share the site with their friends and comment as well. After that users are then told to sign up for rewards programs. After that the user finds out there is no free shop at Tesco’s.
And this is essentially how many rewards scams work – bait users with a free gift to get them to give up their personal information and sign up for a rewards scheme. Some of you might see an uncanny resemblance between these scams and survey scams which are also incredibly popular on Facebook – survey scams are the ones that falsely claim to offer freebies but victims find out they first have to complete useless surveys beforehand. In these surveys users also have to part with personal information as well – in fact there is little difference between Facebook rewards scams and survey scams.
The fact is that users have little way of knowing if a gift offered in a social networking message actually exists, and rewards programs are rarely worth venturing because of the hassle, especially if the initial offer does not exist!
We have been seeing a dramatic increase of Facebook rewards scams lately. Christmas is coming and scammers know that baiting victims with perfect Christmas gifts such as Christmas gift vouchers will be more successful now than any other time of the year. Early examples have already included Christmas vouchers or gift cards for Argos, ASDA and Gucci. Facebook users should additionally be wary of survey scams and “first amount of people to join this group get a …” Facebook group scams which also become more popular during the latter part of the year.
For all you Internet surfers, never get fooled by these rewards scams that circulate social networking sites baiting people with free gifts, and always be dubious of rewards programs that ask for your personal information.