How to Spot Social Media Ad Scams
Social media is no longer the safe, carefree world of connecting with friends, sharing photos and watching endless streams of memes. Instead, it has increasingly become a hot spot for cleverly designed and well-hidden ad scams.
Far from their original inception as fun networking tools, social media platforms are now enormous business entities that rake in billions in revenue. Due to their ability to understand exactly what each user responds to, they’re perfect for identifying users and turning them into customers. But while this ability has made them a beloved advertising tool by e-commerce businesses of all sizes, they’re also an incredibly powerful tool for bad agents with even worse intentions.
How to Protect Yourself From Social Media Ad Scams
Online scams are not just limited to the likes of email phishing. Online purchase scams have increasingly become one of the most common cons with the highest volume of reported victims. Steering clear of these scams is a combination of two things: doing your “due diligence”, and being aware of how bad agents operate.
Let’s start with the former.
Doing your “due diligence” is all about taking the right steps to ensure you’re not walking headfirst into a scam. This all starts with research. Before you enter any information (especially payment information) you want to do some digging into the company on the other end of the transaction. Try to answer questions such as:
- Where are they based?
- Do they have contact information?
- Have others been “duped” by this site (no matter how professional and testimonial laden it looks)?
If your company is posing as an American business but is actually based in Guangzhou, China, has no contact information, and a litany of search results for “company name + scam”… then it’s probably illegitimate.
The next step of due diligence is about controlling yourself and the way you interact with these social media platforms.
Be extra careful with buying into a company just because of its pretty website design or compelling message. This goes extra for charities. Social media ads can lend themselves to finely crafted ads that pull at the heartstrings and get your wallet flying out of your pocket. But before it does, check with a website like give.org to make sure that charity is the real deal. Helpful tools like BBBScam tracker can also help you to identify which companies are illegitimate.
Ads that you receive can also be targeted to your search information, location, and online behavior. This is because social media platforms store enormous amounts of information about you, which they then sell to advertisers. Although their data practices are usually responsible, these ads are built on a profile of information about you, and are much more likely to be successful. In short, you want to click them as they’re what you normally click on.
Preventing this can sometimes be as simple as using an incognito mode on your browser or only purchasing products on a specific social media account that you don’t scroll on. But you’ll get the best results by using a VPN. This helps keep your location and search activity private, even from the VPN provider (if it is reputable). This also makes it more difficult for bad agents to target you with ads that you are almost guaranteed to click.
Once you’ve clued yourself into those steps, the next step is to understand just how bad agents go about fooling people in the first place.
Let’s take a look.
The saying goes ‘If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.’ This goes double for expensive, branded products that you suddenly see at incredibly cheap prices.
Popular brands are targeted by counterfeiters for the simple reason that they sell. Whether it’s handbags, watches, sporting goods, or sunglasses – people are all too willing to believe that they’re getting an amazing deal on a brand they can never normally afford.
But these products come with risks. Counterfeit items are much more likely to be poor quality and much less likely to meet the relevant safety regulations. An example of this would be counterfeit Canada goose Jackets, which don’t promise hygienic down lining and often begin to lose feathers after just a few wears.
Pay attention to the warning signs. The easiest way to spot a fake product is that its price is significantly lower than its in-store retail price. Another sign would be a distributor that is located in a foreign country far from any distributor the real company uses. And finally, poor quality, miss-spelled adverts can be another sign.
Suspect Apps and Free Trials
Everyone’s feed is no stranger to new apps being advertised. Every day there are new games, dating platforms, food delivery services, writing aids, and countless more. Many times these apps are free and require as little as the click of a button to have them downloaded. However, many of these apps can be a hotspot for scams.
Some apps come from disreputable sources, and while claiming to be free can often sign you up to a costly subscription that adds up quickly. Some victims have reported that they’ve been charged as much as $99 every week.
Be sure to research the app thoroughly before entering any details, even if it’s just basic login information. Check the developers’ websites, user reviews, and pay attention to the quality of the writing. Anything that looks rushed is a sign that the app has been designed by a scammer or a developer who is not serious about security, so beware.
Similarly, free trial offers -endorsed or otherwise- almost always come with a catch. These can come in the form of apps, products, or services — and while they may be initially free, they almost always come with a cost or subscription fee.
Most legitimate SaaS businesses are transparent about their pricing models. But in many instances, their fees can be deliberately hidden and expensive. What may appear to be a free offer is, in fact, a short trial period that ends in a multiple purchase commitment costing over $100.
Consumer complaints are your friend here. Look for reports of people getting suddenly “stung” by sudden fees, and pay attention to any small print on the offer. But as ever, following the simple advice “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is” usually helps.
Great Ads, Terrible Customer Service
This is the most common scam that people get stung by. Bad or disreputable agents offer an inexpensive, in-demand product for an easy to use sales page. The advertisement looks great, the sales page seems legitimate, and the cost is so low that it’s easy for consumers to purchase without thinking.
This is where they run into problems. After their initial purchase, victims are then left in the dark, waiting long periods for a delivery that never arrives. When they then reach out to customer service, the response they usually get is unhelpful, blunt, and unprofessional. Sometimes they never hear back at all.
This could be seen as a case of “you get what you pay for” but this is an unfortunate scam that many people fall for. It ranges across almost all products. Whether it’s children’s toys, women’s shoes, or sporting goods – the net for potential victims is cast wide.
To avoid this scam you want to search Google for any and all reviews you can get your hands on. Searching the company’s name plus words like “poor service”, “scam”, “product never arrived”, and “complaint” helps illuminate if buyers have had any issues with this company in the past.
Also, examine the company’s website and check if their contact information is non-existent. If it is then the odds are they want your money without having to deal with your complaints. Not ideal.
Avoiding social media ad scams is all about paying attention to who you are buying from and making sure you understand what you are buying.
It is about resisting the easy impulse to click-and-buy as you scroll, and looking into the company, it’s the product, and it’s reputation.
If you can do that, it’ll be hard to get caught out.