How to spot and avoid Facebook 'Like' scams

When you click or press the Like button, you may be disclosing more about yourself than you imagine. You may also be contributing to the bank accounts of Internet scammers.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
6 min read

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Facebook "likes" mean money. Individuals and businesses of all types -- legitimate and otherwise -- use various techniques to persuade you to click that ubiquitous thumbs-up button.

Begging for Facebook "likes" has become epidemic. "If I get a million likes I'll be cured of my terminal disease and I'll be able to implement my sure-fire plan for world peace!"

"If you don't like this picture you hate your mother, America, and apple pie."

Yeah, right.

Scammers prey on Facebook users' propensity to respond emotionally by clicking "Like" when an image or plea tugs at their heart strings or piques their ire.

Scam sites offer to sell you likes clicked by real-live humans. The buyers intend to convert the clicks into traffic for their Facebook page, which translates to increased ad revenue. Several such sites I visited appear to be owned by the same anonymous party and are registered in Panama.

The Facebook Help Center states unequivocally that you cannot buy likes:

Certain websites promise to provide large numbers of likes for your Page if you sign up and give them money. These websites typically use deceptive practices or are scams. People who like your Page this way will be less valuable to your Page because they won't necessarily have a genuine interest in what your Page is about. If Facebook's spam systems detect that your Page is connected to this type of activity, we'll place limits on your Page to prevent further violations of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

(Earlier this month, CNET's Jennifer Van Grove reported on the U.S. State Department's questionable attempt to generate "likes" for its Facebook pages.)

At the same time, Facebook allows developers to reward the people who like their pages. The company's Platform Policies site describes its referral-based rewards program for tying in-app rewards to its Social Channels.

For example, users can't be rewarded for sending invitations to their friends, but they can be rewarded based on the number of their friends who accept such invitations. Also, people who like a page can be given coupons, rebates, exclusive content, a chance at a promotion, or the ability to donate to a charity. The only caveat is that the bonus be available to all users, not just new ones.

Pepsi recently offered attendees at a Beyonce concert in Antwerp a free drink in exchange for liking the company on Facebook, as Mashable's Todd Wasserman describes.

Facebook "fan" pages are bought and sold. Buyers are promised access to hundreds of thousands of "friends." Last May, Becky Worley reported on the Yahoo News site that a Facebook page followed by 500,000 hamburger fans was offered for sale at an asking price of $5,000, while another for cuddling aficionados was listed at $7,000.

One popular Facebook scam is a variation on the old "download the player" ploy. You're checking out your Facebook news feed when a post appears that says simply "You gotta see this!"

Oh, no you don't. You click the link only to be informed via a pop-up window that you need to install a media player to view the video. Of course, the download is actually malware that infects your system, steals your data, and uses your account to send out even more virus-bearing spam.

What happens when you click the 'Like' button
According to the Facebook Help Center, when you click "Like" or "Recommend," a story appears on your timeline, ticker, and/or news feed.

Another Facebook help page explains that when you click "Like" on a Facebook Page, in an advertisement, or on a page outside Facebook, "[y]ou may be displayed on the Page you connected to, in advertisements about that Page or in social plugins next to the content you like."

You may also receive updates and messages from Pages you like, and the connection might be shared with apps on the Facebook Platform.

To unlike a page, hover the cursor over the page's Like button and select Unlike on the menu that appears, or simply select the blue Liked icon.

Clicking the Like button can be revealing
Facebook loves it when you share. It is a social network after all. As with much of the information you volunteer to Web sites, what you like on Facebook may disclose more about yourself than you realize.

As reported last March by the Guardian's Josh Halliday, researchers at Cambridge University who studied the "public" likes clicked by 58,000 Facebook users were able to discern their IQ, emotional stability, sexuality, and other personality traits with a high level of accuracy, without knowing anything else about the people.

The complete study is published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences site.

The act of liking an article, post, or other item influences the future. Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal's Neil Strauss decried the tyranny of the Like button and its cohorts the +1, tweet, and StumbleUpon, pointing out that we judge content based on the number of likes it has received.

Strauss compares the failure to generate likes for an item to a comedian's joke that is met with silence. Just as the comedian is unlikely to repeat that joke, the person posting an item that generates no likes may be disinclined to post similar items in the future.

According to the Wisemetrics blog, the Like count that appears above items doesn't represent the number people who have clicked the button for that item. The number includes the times the URL has been shared whether or not the sharer clicked "Like," as well as the number of Facebook comments about the item.

On the lookout for Facebook hoaxes
Facebook scams proliferate so quickly it can be difficult to keep up with them. The Hoax-Slayer site provides an overview of like-farming scams as well as a compendium of Facebook-related scams reported as recently as today and dating back more than three years.

In a post from last October on his DaylanDoes blog, Daylan Pearce described the mechanics of several Facebook Like scams. The Facecrooks site maintains a list of Facebook-related scams, including a revival of the old chestnut that promises to reveal who viewed your profile. As the Facebook Help Center explains, the service doesn't let you track who views your timeline or posts, nor does it allow third-party apps to do so.

Several sophisticated Facebook hoaxes were revealed by Digital Trends' Francis Bea in a post from last May. One of the trickiest is a notice purporting to be from Facebook instructing you to log into your account to re-activate it.

Last March, CNET's Steven Musil described a scam that promised free iPad Minis and other expensive personal electronics in exchange for Facebook likes. If you spot a Facebook-related scam, you can report it by clicking the Report link that appears near it. The Facebook Help Center provides information for reporting all types of abusive content.

At this point, you may be wondering whether you should "Like" this post. After having written close to 600 separate items for this blog since 2007, I know certain topics generate more likes than others. It's no surprise that posts relating to Facebook, Twitter, or another social network are shared more frequently than items about Windows or Microsoft Office, for example. If I chose my topics based solely on sharing frequency, this would be the Facebook and iPad Blog.

No, thank you.