5 Ways To Spot Social Media Scams & Rogue Apps

Ben Stegner 07-08-2014

In the past, we wrote about then-current Facebook scams to watch out for The Top 5 Current Facebook Scams To Watch Out For Read More , and Angela has covered fake Facebook pages to avoid How to Secure Your Facebook Login With a Security Key to Avoid Scams and Hacks There's a new scam going around that could steal your Facebook account if you aren't careful. Mobile users are at greater risk. Here's what you need to know. Read More . It’s great to know about these problems, but unfortunately, nobody can predict the future and these articles can’t be published until a big scam happens.


Facebook is a huge target for the new generation of con artists, because there’s such a large user base who can be scammed without any face-to-face contact How to Prevent Text and Instant Messaging from Smothering a Relationship Ladies and gents, ever heard of the old phrase, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" It's not just some silly cliché. In fact, it's quite possibly more relevant in this day and age than it... Read More . Although you’ve taken precautions to secure your privacy on Facebook with our unofficial guide The Complete Facebook Privacy Guide Privacy on Facebook is a complex beast. Many important settings are hidden out of sight. Here's a complete look at every Facebook privacy setting you need to know about. Read More , falling for a trick is still possible, and the results can end in tears. Even if you never encounter a scam that tries to steal money, by avoiding these plagues you’ll save at least time and headaches. Let’s take an ounce of prevention and diagnose how to spot and avoid these scams.

Shady Or Unsolicited Messages

Messages are a great feature of Facebook, allowing an easy place to chat with friends whose phone numbers you may not have. Facebook has filtering in place to attempt to keep messages away from people you don’t know, but sometimes it doesn’t work too well.

The “other” folder is reserved for this. You might get the occasional message asking you to promote some lame band or website, which are harmless.


But if you get one that looks like this, report is as spam and delete it immediately. Don’t even bother with a reply.



This one is a classic Nigerian Scam Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion] Another day, another spam email drops into my inbox, somehow working its way around the Windows Live spam filter that does such a good job of protecting my eyes from all of the other unsolicited... Read More – an obvious attempt at stealing your personal information. But they won’t all look like this; some may come from a person with a real-looking name and profile picture. If you’ve never heard of the person, disregard the message; someone who really needs to get in contact with you will find another way.

Expensive Free Stuff

Let’s make something clear, once and for all. Aside from legitimate giveaways on sites you know to be trustworthy (like MakeUseOf Giveaways), you will never receive expensive items for free online. When you see a new Facebook picture advertising a site selling iPads for $2, it’s a fraud.



In this real example, a page promises a free iPad – once you like and share a guy’s website page and refer a paying customer. Really, that’s anything but free. So, what this boils down to is someone’s attempt to promote his business. What’s sad is that people leave personal comments on this page, sharing stories about their ill relatives and how an iPad could change their lives. It’s sickening.


Another common source of fakes is a high-profile person supposedly giving away loads of cash. One that happens often is Bill Gates giving away a billion dollars – all you have to do is like and share a picture! For some reason, though, this picture looks like a police shot of stolen money. Further, why would Bill Gates have pictures of cash from a country other than the USA?



Think about this logically for a moment. First, if Bill Gates were to give away any significant amount of money, he wouldn’t do it through Facebook. Second, can you imagine how difficult it would be to track every single person that likes and shares one photo? Third, why would there be a new giveaway every other week? Keep in mind that any old loser can make a page with a Google Image search 7 Vital Google Image Search Hacks Want to use Google Images like a pro? Here are advanced tips you should know for successful image searches Read More picture of Bill Gates.

Not enough people ask these questions, evidently, because here’s some of the comments on one of these Bill Gates giveaways:


Bill Gates may be better than Batman Is Bill Gates Better Than Batman? [INFOGRAPHIC] It's the question that has been asked time and time again through the ages - is Bill Gates better than Batman? Or does the Caped Crusader come out on top every time? Well let's examine... Read More , but he will never give away money to a random citizen of Facebook. You’re never going to receive free tickets to concerts, either. Do you really think that someone who doesn’t know how to use apostrophes correctly is going to be giving away expensive tickets? How convenient that the page always needs more likes and shares to give out the goods.



If it’s not immediately obvious whether a contest is legitimate or not, you can use a couple of methods to find out. Before you do, however, check for the blue check mark on the Facebook page. That’s the Verified symbol, and it shows that you’re viewing the true page for a company. Anybody could create a page called Disney Fans! that’s just fan-made – even if it has thousands of “likes,” it isn’t guaranteed to be legit.


If you’re still not sure, use these steps. First, check how old the page is. If it was made last week and is promising a brand new car, it’s crap. Unsurprisingly, the Bill Gates page was created on July 11, 2014, a bit over two weeks before this article’s writing. Just because a page is older doesn’t mean it’s okay, however.

The One Direction “Ticket’s” [sic] page was put up in April of 2012, but do you really think they’ve handed out freebies for more than two years? Unfortunately, it’s the opposite: they’ve been fooling people and wasting their time for that long. Evidently, Sandy Akok has been looking for tickets for those two years, spouting off the same story, and still hasn’t gotten any.


Second, look for Terms and Conditions 8 Ridiculous EULA Clauses You May Have Already Agreed To Here are some of the most ridiculous terms and conditions in the EULAs of popular services. You may have already agreed to them! Read More for the contest. Most legitimate sites and promotions have a set of terms that lays out how long the giveaway lasts, how you’ll receive your prize, various disclaimers, and region info. These scams have none of that; instead they promise arbitrary amounts of goods with no set date. There are other telling signs besides these, but 99% of scams you come across can be busted with this information.

Low Quality Or Sexual Images

Images are extremely important in today’s online society, since people have such short attention spans. If you want people to read your article, a great header image is important. A YouTube video with a generic thumbnail likely won’t take off. Without a doubt, images grab attention. If you need proof, just look:


These “fail” compilation videos get millions of views, and it’s largely because their thumbnails are typically scantily-clad women. It’s a cheap trick to get people to click on them, and it clearly works. Don’t fall for the same ruse and click on the sexy thumbnail someone sends you in an image, or the ridiculous model-esque profile picture of someone who sends you a Facebook message. It’s all the same thing: trash.


In the same vein, if a company is having a legitimate giveaway they’ll take the time to create an attractive image to share. So when you see junk like this posted twenty times in one week, with random friends tagged in it:


Ignore it, for your own good. If it looks like a kindergartner slapped it together in Microsoft Paint How to Edit and Enhance Screenshots Using MS Paint Here's how to edit a screenshot using Microsoft Paint so you can edit screenshots on Windows 10 without extra software. Read More it isn’t for real.

Tugs At Your Curiosity

When you’re told that somebody took a picture of you and it’s making its rounds to your friends, what’s your first instinct? To check it out for yourself, of course. Scammers prey on this trait to get you to click their garbage, often on Twitter.


Once you click that link, a number of things could happen; you could be taken to a fake sign-in page to hand over your credentials to a spammer, who would then send this junk to your followers. At best, you’ll be sent to a cheesy site where you’ll hear about a mother who made $50 million in one month working from home. Any link that starts with “You have to see…” or “CLICK HERE…” is better left alone.

Playing On Your Emotions

Tragedies happen, and when they do it’s a great thing to pitch and in and donate 6 Charities That You Can Just Text To Donate Back in early 2010, when Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake, text-to-donate campaigns helped raise the amazing amount of $10 million pretty quickly. Though that campaign is no longer active (you can still mail... Read More . When you do, however, be sure that you’re actually donating to a worthy cause and not someone wanting to make a quick buck off others’ generosity.

As one example of shady usage of money, take a look at this photo posted by Britain First, a political organization.


The organization asks for likes, shares and donations to help stop animal abuse, but upon closer examination, they made no effort to separate their general donations from the ones to stop abuse. So, they show emotional pictures, ask for money to help out, and when people send money thinking they’re doing good, they’re actually donating to an institution who has no intention whatsoever of helping with the problem.

The point here isn’t about politics or this organization in particular, but rather that people blindly donate. If you want to do good with your money, be sure it’s going to a reputable source. Giving through a cause you see on Facebook simply isn’t a smart move.

Why Do People Do This?

The reason that people publish these scams is the reason for a lot of evil in this world: money. if you’re lucky, falling for any of the above issues will only lead to an annoyance and maybe spamming your friends’ pages. Some people just want to increase their “like” count or promote their stupid website.


Some take it further, though. If they’re not out for just “likes,” they’re trying to get money, and they’ll do it in any way possible. Some want you to download a rogue application, perhaps disguised as a game, to hold your system for ransom Don't Pay Up - How To Beat Ransomware! Just imagine if someone showed up on your doorstep and said, "Hey, there's mice in your house that you didn't know about. Give us $100 and we'll get rid of them." This is the Ransomware... Read More or to use your computer as a zombie Is Your PC A Zombie? And What's a Zombie Computer, Anyway? [MakeUseOf Explains] Have you ever wondered where all of the Internet spam comes from? You probably receive hundreds of spam-filtered junk emails every day. Does that mean there are hundreds and thousands of people out there, sitting... Read More . We’ve covered what to do if you’re infected 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More by malware, so if you’ve fallen for any of the above you should follow those steps to be sure your computer and financial information is safe.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve fallen for a trick; Angela almost did and has told the tale How I Nearly Got Conned Via A Western Union Transfer Scam Here's a little story about the latest "Nigerian scam", which is all too obvious in hindsight and yet so believable when you're on the hook. Read More so that you can learn from her experience. If you’re looking for even more advice on this topic, check out some older, but still relevant, general tips to avoid scams on Facebook 5 Tips & Tricks To Avoid Facebook Phishing Scams Read More .


Finally,, one of the definitive online resources for debunking rumors How To Debunk Online Rumors & Urban Myths Have you ever seen a post on the Internet and your only reaction was "what? That can’t possibly be true". It’s happened to me lots of times and I’m always sent on a wild goose... Read More , has sections dedicated to Facebook rumors, computer-related hoaxes, and scams. If you see something going around and aren’t sure if it’s for real, be sure to check snopes and let your friends know so they don’t spread it.

Have you ever fallen for a social media scam? How do you spot fakes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!

Image Credit: Internet Scam via Shutterstock

Related topics: Facebook, Online Security, Scams.

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  1. karen jesser
    May 17, 2016 at 10:06 am

    My Facebook page is Friends with Friends only but of course my information is public when playing games......I STILL get advertising. .........Could this be from friends who have ' Public Facebook Profiles ' & I receive their spam information as my ' Facebook profile is Friends of Friends? '......Curious......Thankyou for another helpful article?

  2. Shayna333
    August 9, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    How about an article on dating site scams I get more scams than actual people

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      Shayna, this isn't a bad idea. I haven't done any online dating, but I can see this being a useful article. If you'd like, send your experiences/ideas for an article on this to me at:

      ben [at] makeuseof [dot] com

      Thanks for the idea!

      • Connie
        February 21, 2017 at 3:03 pm

        I agree with Shayna333, there are tons of scammer on dating sites. They seems to follow a pattern. They use pics of military men, I think to cover for the fact that they are overseas, there's usually a dead wife and children to raise. They are looking for 'woman of good heart' for 'serious relationship'.

  3. stevieod
    August 9, 2014 at 3:35 am

    Hahahahahahaaaahaaahahahaaahahahaahaahaaaaaa! I find it very funny and pathetic that people even fall for these ruses. Especially the Nigerian scams.

    I must admit, I have fallen for a couple of scams in the past, but I have learned my lessons and unless I am hit with a large stupid stick, I no longer fall prey to the crap that goes around on the internet masquerading as 'legitimate'.

    You must, absolutely must do your due diligence, if you are too lazy or stupid to do this, then there is no fixing stupid and deserve to be preyed apon by these morons.

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      It's amazing, isn't it? Email and Facebook messages are so easy and cheap to mass-send that scammers can make a profit if one or two out of hundreds of thousands of people bite. It seems silly, yes, but I'm wowed at the folks who have to ask if something is legitimate.

  4. Aimdog
    August 9, 2014 at 1:46 am

    I have a few weeks ago and I'm mad bcz I'm off work and lost money bcz of it. I keep getting suggestions of products and one caught my eye. It was for anti-wrinkle cream guaranteed by Dr. Oz. There are 2 products and they will send you samples for $5 each. I should've known it was too good to be true. I have worked in the legal field for 13 years – you would think I would know better. So I filled out the forms through an ad on Facebook and within a week received two samples. Tried them and liked them but noticed one had a receipt one didn't. On the one receipt it said in very tiny print "You have 10 days to try this product – if you don't like it you must send it back or you will be charged $79.99 for the sample and $79.99 per month thereafter and we will send you the product once a month until you cancel". What? That wasn't anywhere on anything I read and I read everything thoroughly. Thank goodness I caught that one. Paid for it to be sent back and was sent an email stating I cancelled properly. A month later I was charged $80 from the other company who never once mentioned this product was the same deal as the other one. I'm livid bcz there is no way to contact this company – the 800-number has a recording. It does let you cancel by pressing one of the prompts but they got my money! I can't even afford to feed myself right now because I am off work due to a surgery. I have a child and I'm single. It's just so very wrong.

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      I'm so sorry that you feel for this. Unfortunately, this type of take-the-money-and-run is all too common. Once they have your credit card numbers, you're at their mercy.

      At least you can learn from this experience. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Carleen C.
      August 11, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Call your bank or credit card company and tell them the charges are not authorized.

  5. D Harries
    August 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    How about the adverts on this page?

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      I have no control over what advertisements are placed on MakeUseOf. We do our best to keep malicious ads, pop-ups, and video ads away. If you really have an issue with this, please contact someone.

    • D Harries
      August 9, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      I was making a wry comment. :-)

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      I didn't pick up on that, clearly. All good : )

    • D Harries
      August 9, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      And how about yourself ;-)

  6. Movva D
    August 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    The spams in India looks like this
    "I am suffering from some disease if u share this picture Facebook has agreed to give 10paise(1rupee=100paise) for each share "
    "Share this picture of god in 30seconds then you hear good news, otherwise you suffer"

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      I've seen some of this in the US, too. It's a similar issue to the Bill Gates giveaways; how in the world would liking a post on FB give money to someone?

      And threatening people for not sharing is a super-old trick, but really annoying. Remember the old chain mail? "Forward this message to ten friends or you'll see the ghost of Frankenstein tonight..." What a bunch of trash.

  7. Mujtaba Fadhel
    August 8, 2014 at 9:20 am

    You forgot to mention those FB groups where people sell their pages & trade it with another. first, they collcet likes & shares using the scams you mentioned, then, they just go to this groups and sell it at a high price !

    • Ben S
      August 9, 2014 at 5:08 pm

      I haven't seen a whole lot of this behavior, but it surely is shady. It's amazing what people will do these days just for a Like, isn't it?

      It's odd when you notice a page randomly changes names and purposes, like when these crappy pages are sold.

      Thanks for the input!