Thursday 14 March 2013

Fake competitions - the hows, whys and what-to-dos

You must have spotted them. The pages on Facebook or the Twitter feeds that have absolutely nothing but competitions, each one of them allegedly giving away generous prizes. An iPhone for a every 500 retweets? A fashion item for simply liking and sharing a photo - it's so easy to think "Yes please, I'll have some of that", click the button and wait for your prize.

And yes, the majority of "retweet and follow" or "like and share" competitions are genuine (I'm not going to get  into the whole to-like-and-share-or-not-to-like-and-share argument here, the Facebook situation is up in the air at the moment and even if there is a clampdown happening, the pages I'm talking about will find alternative ways of operating). Prizes are won, people are happy, and with luck the promoter gets more business. After all, that's the point of a competition - to raise the profile of the business, get people involved and interacting and with luck draw them in as customers.

But what happens when there is no apparent business involved? No sponsor, no promoter, just a page promising to give away masses of valuable prizes? I've looked in the past at comping hoaxes and scams - you can read the articles here  and here and here. But in all the examples  I've used, it's been possible to see, if you look carefully, what the scammer is trying to get out of it.

A new generation of competitions has arisen on both Twitter and Facebook, though, where it is impossible to see what they are going to get out of it. You don't have to authorise an app, you don't have to give them access to your details, you don't have to give them any personal information. It's easy to think, "Well it looks a bit odd but there can't be any harm in entering." And just look at the number of likers or followers they have - tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. Surely they must be genuine.

The bad news is that they are NOT genuine - if there's no business to promote, it isn't a promotion. What do they get out of it? NUMBERS. And what good are these numbers?

Well, there are some businesses out there, either legitimate but lazy or operating outside the law, who are prepared to pay big money for a ready made Facebook or Twitter account with a large number of ready made fans. So the scammer sets up pages offering various types of prize, making liking the page and  sharing a post, or following it and retweeting it, a condition of entry. That way the word spreads rapidly and if the prizes are big enough, the fans will come flocking.

No prizes are ever given away though. When a certain number of fans has accrued, the page is sold to  a customer who will change the name of the page, delete all the competition posts and start posting their own promotions. It may be nothing to do with any of your interests and will almost certainly be something you wouldn't want to read. After all, if people wanted to read what the page had to say, they could have saved a lot of money by building up their fan base for free! What's more, if you are following them on Twitter the new owner can send you direct messages of the kind you may not want to read. Before I knew that this was going on, I occasionally had direct messages from people I was quite certain I'd never followed - now I realise I'd followed them when they were a different person, with a different name.

There are several fake competitions going on at the moment. Unfortunately I don't feel I can "name and shame" here because the sort of people who would run a scam like that would almost certainly be vindictive in their treatment of anyone who outed them, but if ever  you are in any doubt about whether a competition is genuine or not, send me a personal message on Facebook or Twitter (tweet me to ask me to follow you  if I don't already do so) along with a link to the competition and I will have a look and  tell you whether it is genuine.

If you come across a competition you are sure is fake, what do you do about it? Well on Facebook, use the cogwheel next to the "Message" button on the page to report it to Facebook - they'll probably ignore it but at least you can say you've done your bit, and all the little bits add up! On Twitter, report it as "Name Squatting" or Spam,  following the links on their Reporting Violations page  -once again, it's likely that nothing will happen but on the other hand, if nobody reports them,  it's guaranteed that nothing will happen.

And if you've already liked the page or followed the account, unlike and unfollow then when they morph into something completely different you will be blissfully unaware!


  1. Fantastic post. There are so many "newbies" out there who have started to enter comps, because they have seen their friends win on their newsfeeds, but they have no idea and just enter anything. Saying that, even us "oldies" can get caught sometimes. Thanks for a great post x

  2. yes a agree great post, i have come across quite a few of these pages and been caught by the odd one myself


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