If you're an ordinary everyday computer-and-Internet user (as opposed to a brilliant IT computer-security genius-type), maybe sometimes you read tech news and feel a certain exasperation that, if put into words, sounds something like this: “So no matter what I do online, I'll come to a bad end. If the NSA isn't reading my emails then the Russian Hacker Mafia (or who-knows who else) is using them to plant malware on my computer, my perceived creditworthiness takes a ding anytime one of my Facebook friends has a financial setback and, speaking of Facebook, turns out that merely clicking 'like' on a Facebook post might be all it takes to enrich scammers and catch the computer-virus equivalent of ebola and … I dunno, maybe the Amish have the right idea.”
Yes, scammy Facebook “like farming” is the latest scam du jour making the Internet more dangerous than it already is. And it's easy to fly undetected beneath most people's anti-scam radar because, after all, what harm can there be in clicking “like?” It's not as though you're giving out your account numbers, passwords and other personal information best kept secret, right?
Well, about that — CNN's tech blogger spoke to Tim Senft, the founder of Facecrooks.com, a website dedicated to rooting out scam attempts on Facebook. Senft confirmed that the “What can it hurt to click 'like'?” idea makes it esier for certain scammers to proliferate.
For example: if you've been active on Facebook within the past few years, you may have seen posts urging you to “like” a photo of a little girl in a cheerleading uniform, her head bald from chemotherapy treatments. Clicking “like” would allegedly show support for the little girl and her fight against cancer, let her know she's still beautiful and — gee, who wouldn't spend a half-second clicking “like” to cheer up a poor, sick, brave little girl?
Except that photo is currently six years old, and neither the child nor her mother have anything to do with its frequent appearances on Facebook.
Assuming you're one of these Facebook scammers: what possible benefit do you get from tricking people into simply “liking” a page, as opposed to sending donations or similar things? As Senft told CNN:
Facebook pages are created with the sole purpose of spreading viral content that will get lots of likes and shares.
Once the page creators have piled up hundreds of thousands of likes and shares, they'll strip the page and promote something else, like products that they get a commission for selling. Or, they may turn around and sell the page through black-market websites to someone who does the same.
It's a way to trick Facebook's algorithm, which is designed to give more value to popular pages than the ones, like scams and spam, that pop up overnight.
"The more likes and shares and comments and that sort of thing you have, the more likely it is to be seen by other people," Senft said. "If they're looking to sell the page in a black-hat forum somewhere, that's what the value of the page is."
Even worse, the page might even be used to directly place malware or viruses on your computer, access your personal profile information, even sign you up for automatic (paid) subscriptions without your consent.
So what do you do? Facebook already offers users the opportunity to report potentially spammy or scammy sites, but of course your best bet is to not “like” or visit a scam site in the first place. Senft's advice is to identify and ignore the obvious attempts to manipulate your emotions.
“If it sounds too good to be true, don't click on it," he said. "If it's something that's obviously geared toward tugging on the heartstrings, check it out first."