March 8, 2010

Get Free iTunes or Starbucks Gift Card on Facebook

Got your attention? If this peeked your interest, then you are not alone.
Facebook Group for an iTunes Gift Card Scam
Thousands of users have become unwitting victims of “free” scams that are pervasive throughout Facebook. Essentially, a “free” scam is an offer by the solicitor to award a free prize, usually something very desirable, in exchange for some mundane tasks, such as filling out a survey. What ends up happening is that the victim is mislead to signing up for a service or product that they don’t want, paying for exorbitant shipping and handling fees, agreeing to spam mail offering, or a combination of all of the above. While the “free” scam is not new, it has found success on Facebook by leveraging the social community to perpetuate itself. In December 2009, TechCrunch ran an expose detailing how popular social media games, such as Farmville, were using similar scams to achieve their success. Since the report broke, social media gaming companies have quietly scaled back or altogether stop utilizing these type of scam. However, there are still unscrupulous operators on Facebook running similar scams. For example, a quick search for Facebook groups offering “free” prizes returned hundreds of such groups. Narrowing the search to free iTunes gift card groups, there are at least 82 such groups on Facebook.

Screenshot of Facebook Groups offering free iTunes gift card
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these groups are scams. Lets breakdown how this scam works on Facebook by examining the instruction for getting a free gift card from the group highlighted in red.

1. Lure the Victims
What better way to fall for a scam then to have your friends help you get scammed. Most people are more trusting of emails or recommendations coming from a friend than a total strange. This is exactly what the scam wants people to do. Spread the word that you can win a free gift card. The scam provides clear instructions, steps 1 to 5, on how to join the group and share it with members of their social network.

Screenshot of scam instructions to receive a free iTunes gift card
In using the social network to perpetuates itself, the scam can lure in more victims. This was how we were initially made of aware of this scam from someone in our social network notifying us of this group.

As a side note, anytime someone wants you to copy and paste incomprehensible computer code into your browser, it is wise to just ignore it. Who knows what the code might direct your computer to. It could be malware or worse.

2. Spring the Trap
Next, step six of the instructions directs the reader to visit the website and follow the instructions there. Upon visiting the website, an overlay offering surveys, games, or offers are presented.

Screenshot of Prizecove.com CPA offering.
The website also prevents the user from leaving the website unless the user clicks on more buttons. Short of closing the browser, the user has to click on something to leave the website. Malicious scammers can easily deploy malware or virus when the user clicks on any buttons. Fortunately, there is no such malicious intent here. What the perpetrator wants the user to do is to pick one of the displayed offers.

For this specific website, the options presented to the users are also known as Cost Per Action (CPA) advertising. CPA is an advertising model where advertisers pay for a specific action linked to an advertisement. In the specific website we examine, the CPA provider is CPALead.com. The actions can vary from submitting a form to making a purchase. The website owner receives a commission whenever anyone completes an offer. The payout can range from $0.20 to $10.00 or higher per completed offer. This whole scam is to get the visitor to complete an offer. Some offers can be innocuous, such as filling out a survey. However, if you are not careful you can end up making a large purchase and signing up for a mobile subscription that is automatically billed to your mobile phone every month, such as the IQ Test offer. Try getting out of those plans. Victims have complained about having to change their mobile phone numbers just to cancel these subscription services.

In a nutshell, the perpetrators earn money from victims completing CPA offers. Their objective is to drive as many people to the website to complete an offer. By using social network sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, to promote their “free” scams, the perpetrators can generate more traffic and income.

3. False Promises
Once, the CPA offer is completed, the victim is shown a submission form for a “free” gift card. Submitting the form does not guarantee anyone a free prize at all. Why? Examining the website’s term and conditions, item 7.1, the website reserves the right NOT to ship any product for any reason. This clause along gives them excuse not to award any free gift cards. Sadly, the submitted data is probably sold to marketing firms, who in turn will send junk mail to the victims. Combined with their instruction stating that it takes four to six weeks to receive the free gift card, the scam could operate safely for two months and then disappear without rewarding any gift cards. Furthermore, how can a website give a free gift card to everyone that accurately completes the instructions. If 40,000 visitors complete the form, the perpetrator needs to provide at least one million dollars worth of gift cards. CPA payout per lead won’t even come close to paying for the gift cards. Even if this is a “social experiment”, the mathematics of this free prize does not add up. Lastly, a whois search at www.internic.net for prizecove.com reveals that the owner of the website is hidden. Legitimate website offering free prizes have no problem letting others know who they truly are.

Anyone going through the trouble to get this “free” iTunes gift card will surely be disappointed. For their trouble, the perpetrator will send them junk mail and trick them into signing up for products and services that they don’t need. The “free” gift card offer is a ruse designed to earn money off people visiting the website. While Facebookcan do a better job of removing these type of groups from their website, individuals must be vigilant and look out for these scams. It is relatively easy for perpetrators to quickly launch another “free” gift card group when their current scam group is taken down. Even though iTunes gift card is the current soup d’jour, the perpetrators can switch to Starbucks or Amazon gift cards or any other desirable product to lure victims into their scam. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to watch out for these scams and warn others of it. At a minimum, don’t pass along the “free” prize offers to members of your social network.

Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem Of Hell [TechCrunch.com]
Facebook iTunes Gift Card Scam [CodyNolden.com]

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Readers' Comment (4) | Posted by Alex | Filed under: Scams

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