Several times recently on my personal Facebook page I’ve pointed out to friends and family that things they are sharing and commenting on are fake, or scams. At best these items showing up on my Facebook feeds are an anoying waste of space. At their worst though, there is a risk of something much more damaging, especially to those less aware of the dangers of the Internet.

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about avoiding Facebook scams for a while, and it’s proven difficult for me to put the whole thing into words. To me it’s obvious why I shouldn’t repost a Facebook post offering free iPads/airline tickets/cars etc.- ultimately no good can come of it! But maybe you don’t understand what could happen…..

Realistically, very few of the ‘Claim 1 of 100 free…..’ pages are genuine. They’re run by scammers who, one way or another, are trying to use people to make themselves some money (and I’ll explain how they do that later in the post). The question I often get asked is how would people know if an offer is genuine? Honestly, if you have any doubt, please DO NOT SHARE, LIKE OR COMMENT on these posts. But let’s take one recent example and work through it.

Did you see a recent Facebook offer where Virgin Airlines were giving away free flights for a year for 500 fans? This was allegedly to celebrate them serving 100 million passengers. To stand a chance of being one of the 500, you had to share a photo (which was a Virgin Atlantic boarding pass) and ‘Like This Page’ (the link took you to a Vacations We Love page).

Now the images looked genuine, and it was on a Facebook page for Virgin Airlines. But when you look a tiny bit deeper, you’ll see it’s obviously fake.

  • Firstly, Virgin Airlines isn’t even the name of the company you associate Virgin and flying with! For most people reading this, you’re actually thinking of Virgin Atlantic Airlines.
  • Secondly, when you look at the page belonging to Virgin Airlines, just below it you’ll see a category for this page. In this example it said “Community”, which is a bit strange for an airline (check out BA, Delta etc. to see what they say – usually Travel/Leisure).
  • Lastly, and probably the biggest giveaway for me, there is no ‘verified’ blue tick against the page name. You’ve probably seen the blue tick against lots of pages, and never thought anything of it, but it has a very useful purpose. If there is a blue tick against a name, it shows that Facebook have verified that the page is genuine and belongs to the organisation or person that it appears to be from. Of course, the absence of a blue tick doesn’t mean the page is fake (my own page doesn’t have a tick, but it’s definitely genuine!) – these verifications are only given out to well known (usually global) entities. In the case of Virgin Airlines, if you search for them in Facebook you’ll find only the fake page; under Virgin Atlantic you’ll find the genuine one. And there’ll be no mention of a free flight giveaway.

That’s one example. There’s also the older style ‘Police warning’ messages that ask you to share/like them to make more people aware of an imminent danger. You can usually find these by copying a few lines of text from the ‘warning’ and posting them into a Google search – you’ll usually see a bunch of pages explaining that the messages are fake.

So how are these scams used to make people money?

First, let me explain a little bit about the way Facebook chooses what ‘Page’ updates to show in your newsfeed. Just because you follow a page, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get to see every single status update they post. Every page is rated with something known as an edge rank, and this is based on the engagement level the page has with its followers. The more people like, comment on and share posts (your interaction with photos and videos give an even bigger boost), the higher a page’s edge rank. The higher the edge rank, the more of their updates will be shown to their followers. So for a business, it’s valuable for your page to have a high edge rank (and for a nefarious page owner, a high edge rank is also very useful of course).
And that’s where you might start to realise why people create fake pages with offers to get (lots of) fake likes.

I could potentially create a lookalike page for a high street bank offering 1,000 folloers a £100 credit to their account as part of some celebration. All they’d have to do is like my (fake) page, share it and, if I wanted to attempt a double scam, I might get them to fill in an online survey (which would be at a different site away from Facebook and may promise further rewards) which might start to harvest their personal information for resale to identity fraudsters. That page could soon go viral (they often do when free stuff is offered), and in the earlier Virgin Airlines example, got something like 31,000 likes and 56,000 shares within a couple of days.

Still not sure of how the scammers benefit from this?

Well, it’s very easy to repurpose a Facebook page. That Virgin Airlines page doesn’t exist any more. It’s (probably) had all of its old posts removed, and sold on the black market for thousands of pounds. Because, despite the fact that the name will have been changed, and all the old posts deleted, the edge rank remains (artificially) high. Somebody is now able to purchase an empty page with a pre-built audience.


Of course this all against Facebook’s terms and conditions, but it remains unknown as to whether Facebook ever do anything about these ‘scams’. The fact is though, by liking, commenting on, sharing or going to an external site to fill in a survey from a fake page, NO GOOD WILL COME! You’ll put your friends at risk of falling prey to the same scam as yourself by engaging with them, and potentially worse if the page has external links to surveys etc.

Look out for yourself, and protect the newsfeed of your friends. The last thing you want to do is share something dubious, and for a friend or relative who is less aware than yourself to get their personal information collected and abused. If you have any doubt about a Facebook page, just avoid it.