Over the past few years, scammers have leveraged various social media outlets, like Instagram and Facebook, to sell us dodgy clothing, accessories, homegoods, and technology. The products tend to look really nice and believable online, but when they arrive at your door they are often not the quality you paid for and in some cases they might not come at all. When we reach out to the “companies” to complain, many reply by politely explaining that they will not offer a full refund.
It’s also true that the fraudsters are getting more sophisticated over time. They’re hiding their identities through social media, and using payment methods that are difficult to track. As platforms like Instagram and Facebook evolve and reshape consumer behavior, scammers adapt, and find new ways to gain peoples’ trust.
This can be extremely frustrating so we want to make sure you are aware of the signs of these scams before giving away your personal information or buying anything on social media.
What do product scams on social media look like?
Social Media ad scams are fake ads that lure shoppers in with insanely good deals on products. These scam ads often use stolen images and product descriptions from legitimate brands to appear more trustworthy.
The Verge recently reported an incident with one of these scam companies that advertises shoes on Instagram ads, only to send out shoes made with horrible quality materials compared to the ones originally advertised.
Instagram vs. Reality
After emailing the company to complain, this is the response issued:
We’re so sorry that you’re not satisfied with the items.
Will it be possible to give them to one of your friends as a gift? Or how about a discount as a way to make up for this?
If you return you will bear the expensive shipping fee. How about a big coupon code or 40% refund as a way to make up for this?
-Customer Service Team”
This tactic, explaining that it will be too expensive to return the item and offering a discount instead is common in this type of fraud.
“After sending 30 emails, including side-by-side photos of the shoes in the ad and the shoes she received, she got $40 back — about half of what she’d originally spent. The company also threw in a 20 percent discount for her next purchase” (The Verge, 2022).
Here are the 9 most common signs to look for (according to Reader’s Digest 2022):
1. No contact address on their website
When you click on a brand website, there is typically a place to contact customer service. Whether that contact link is an email, phone number, or mailing address, there is always some sort of headquarters, even if it’s just the creator’s basement. If you are unable to trace the brand back to someone or someplace, then it most likely doesn’t exist.
2.The URL doesn’t begin with https://
A link beginning with https:// means that the website has an SSL certificate. This means that all website traffic is encrypted, secure, and cannot be read. This prevents third parties from hacking into the communication between your website and the user. When your website has an active SSL certificate the application protocol (the very first part of a URL) changes from HTTP to HTTPS.
3. The image seems a little skewed
The aspect ratio of the image may seem a little off, a specific portion of the image may seem blurry or the brand watermark is in an odd location. This could be an attempt to crop the original watermarked image. It would be best to conduct a reverse Google image search to reveal if it is actually the content of the brand/page promoting it or plagiarized from another company.
4. It asks for your credit card information immediately
A major red flag is if the link opens and immediately asks for your credit card or payment information before obtaining an email or other contact/shipping information, it is likely a scam aiming to steal your money.
5. No sponsored logo
You may have noticed that ads on Instagram and Facebook are marked with a sponsored logo up at the top and #ad in the caption. Many of fake advertisements include links to purchase but are not tagged as ads officially on Instagram and Facebook to avoid being found out by the platform.
6. There are very few hashtags
Brands on Instagram will use as many hashtags as possible to reach more people. Alex Perkins, Founder of All The Stuff explains that if the ad does not use a single hashtag, it may be because they don’t want the post to circle back to the original brand to find out they have stolen their product.
7. The ad is too good to be true
Many scammers entice users with the money-saving aspect of advertising since most people will jump at the opportunity to save a few dollars. They know that many consumers can’t resist a good deal.
8. Check the ratio of followers to engagement
Have you ever come across accounts that have thousands of followers, but the posts have hardly any engagement? It seems a bit suspicious, right? “These accounts buy fake followers just to look authentic,” claims Susan Thompson, a Digital Marketing Manager. “But buying likes and comments on each post is not as easy. So, if you see a discrepancy I would recommend not proceeding further.”
9. You are unable to comment on the photo
A dead giveaway that a Social Media ad is counterfeit is that a user can’t comment using certain words or may not even be able to post a comment altogether. Very few businesses choose to turn off comments on their ads so disabled comments could be a red flag.
Please share this information to keep others protected from these scams!
Akram Tariq Khan, CMO, yourlibaas.com
Russell Brandom, The Verge
Emma Taubenfeld, Readers Digest
Alex Perkins, Founder, All the Stuff
Kenda Laney, Blogger, kendalaney.com
Samantha Moss, Editor and Content Ambassador, Romantific
Susan Thompson, Digital Marketing Manager, toppcasinobonus.com
Sturgeon Christie, CEO, Second Skin
Rob Powell, Blogger, robpowellbizblog.com