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Whole Foods working to curb Facebook-based scam

Fake "fan pages" claiming to offer Whole Foods gift cards actually lead to a form that steals personal information, the grocery chain is warning consumers.

Don't become a fan of this, Whole Foods says: it's a scam.

Upscale grocery conglomerate Whole Foods Market said Friday that it is continuing to clamp down on a series of Facebook-based scams that entice users with a purported $500 gift card from the Austin, Texas-based supermarket chain.

The scam has been spreading virally through Facebook via "fan pages" with names like "Whole Foods Market Free $500 Gift Card Limited - first 12,000 fans only" and "Whole Foods FREE $500 Gift Card! Only Available for 36 hours!" The fan page asks Facebook users to add it as a fan, thus pushing awareness of the page through those users' Facebook networks, and then asks them to fill out a credit assessment and other forms that request personal information. The scam then uses a form of malware to crash users' computers and the information they have entered is left vulnerable.

The scams first emerged on Thursday, Whole Foods spokeswoman Libba Letton said, and though they have been working with Facebook to pull them down, new scams "keep popping up" as they're removed. "Throughout yesterday and this morning, we've been alerting them each time we see new ones, and we take them down," Letton told CNET. She said that if Whole Foods runs contests and gift card giveaways, they will only be orchestrated from the company's own Web site.

Whole Foods has also been using its Twitter account to reply to people who have tweeted about the scam or expressed concerns with it, providing answers like, "It's a scam, unaffiliated and unauthorized by us! Please help us report these pages so Facebook can shut them down." A warning announcement on its Facebook fan page is planned as well.

It's not yet clear who is operating the scams or whether any user information has been compromised.

"Groups and pages that attempt to trick people into taking a certain action or spamming their friends with invites violate our policies, and we have a large team of professional investigators who quickly remove these when we detect them or they're reported to us by our users," a Facebook representative told CNET. "We're working on ways to automate the flagging of these scam groups and pages so we can take action on them even more quickly."

The company recommends that users follow the Facebook Security fan page and report suspected scams when they see them.

This post was updated at 10:34 a.m. PDT with comment from Facebook.