Facebook users: Beware this scam

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Offers that appear harmless can actually cause serious damage. Here is how to spot them.

Every so often you probably notice a post appears in your Facebook feed offering some amazing deal, or discount. Recently, with Apple's release of the iPhone 7, the focus of many such posts likely were for you, as they were for me, on giveaways of that new, highly-sought-after device; multiple posts telling me to "Win an iPhone 7 by liking this picture" and to "Click this link to enter to win a new iPhone 7" appeared on my feed. While I have previously discussed ways to avoid falling prey to scams on Facebook in general, the current crop of scams are finding many victims, and deserve a dedicated piece. Sometimes, when people see free giveaways, they figure "what do I have to lose?" Often, however, they are terribly wrong. Here is what you need to know.

Offers for free physical items in return for viewing or Liking posts are almost always scams - typically one of three types:

1. Malware distribution scams

If you are asked to click a link you may be directed to a website that attempts to install malware on your computer. This could lead to all of your data being stolen, your having to pay a ransom to access your own data which the malware encrypts, thieves stealing money from your bank accounts, or your identity being stolen. Criminals may even hijack your social media profiles when you login from that computer - they may make posts that look like they came from you, or send direct messages to your friends in order to victimize them as well.

2. Phishing sites

If you click a link you may be directed to some site that requires a login "Please confirm your Facebook login to continue" - which seems somewhat innocuous when coming from Facebook - but is not. Criminals may gain access to any account to which you give them the password. Of course, using multi-factor authentication and properly securing your social media accounts can help, but do not rely on second factors to keep you safe. For information on how to secure your social media account, please see the article: How to Be Better at Social Media Than Mark Zuckerberg.

3. Like farming

If you are asked to Like a page, you may be helping a dishonest person establish a Facebook page with many Likes. Scammers use phony offers in order to solicit large numbers of Likes for a page, and, then, once a large number of Likes have been amassed, change the page to look like a legitimate informational page, and sell the page to people wishing to buy pages with large numbers of followers. Like farming is obviously prohibited by Facebook - but, as is normally the case, scammers do not follow rules. It should be noted that Liking pictures that you actually like is not the topic of this article (even though such photos might also be posted by scammers for Like farming).

So, to stay safe, here are six ways to tell when an offer is illegitimate:

(Please keep in mind that none of these rules operates on its own or is absolute, but that applying these concepts together should help you identify when an "offer post" is likely from a scammer. As always, please feel free to discuss these suggestions with me online. I'm @JosephSteinberg on Twitter.)

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How to avoid Facebook phishing scams
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How to avoid Facebook phishing scams

1. Exercise common sense

Why is somebody offering you something that costs them money to purchase - and to market - for free? Does there seem to be a legitimate reason for the offer? What value does the party giving away the object receive in return? Does that value warrant giving away the object - or is the offer simply too good to be true? As you probably learned as a child - "don't take candy from strangers."

2. Consider how much is being given away

Legitimate giveaways done for marketing purposes are typically inexpensive items, downloadable materials, or extremely small quantities of expensive items to a small percentage of sweepstakes winners selected from a targeted group; any offer that claims to be giving away large numbers of expensive items should raise a red flag as doing so rarely makes sense from a business standpoint, especially if the offer is being promoted to the general public on social media.

(Adam Gault via Getty Images)

3. Check if a page is verified

Most major businesses are verified (with a white check on a blue circle - some small businesses have similar marks that are white on gray), so if an offer is ostensibly coming from a large business and the page from which it is being posted is not verified, that may signal problems. Not all businesses are verified; if you see a post from a business that is not verified, however, you can search on the business's name and see if there is a verified account for the business - if there is, you know that the unverified account is likely fake.

More From Inc.com: 10 Things You Can Do in Your Daily Life to Improve Your Personal Development

(Nastco)

4. Look at the fine print

Legitimate sweepstakes and giveaways always have some sorts of "fine print" associated with them - if there are no "Offer Details," "Terms and Conditions," or the like, consider a huge red flag to have been raised.

(Reptile8488 via Getty Images)

5. Look for signs of an unprofessional post

Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, misuse of idioms, writing that appears to have been auto-translated or written without knowledge of "how people speak," or photos that don't seem to match the post are all red flags. Do you really think a major firm running a marketing campaign doesn't check its content before posting it on Facebook?

(Just One Film via Getty Images)

6. Check the page's age and what appeared on it prior to the questionable post

it is a bad sign if a page was created right before an offer post was made. Of course, criminals know that people look out for page age - so they may create pages and post for a while before using the page for scams. So look out for what content was shared before? Does it make sense coming from the business? Do the comments on those posts make sense? Often there are giveaways on such pages that something is amiss.

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