Aussies fall for "Shop for Free" scam on Facebook – watch out!

Filed Under: Facebook, Malware, Social networks, Spam

Don't fall for the Target Week SHOP for FREE scam, which is currently proving very popular on Facebook.

Thousands of Australians, and even more people elsewhere in the world, already seem to have decided that they "Like" this special offer on Facebook, thus recommending it for free to all their friends. Don't be the next to get sucked in!

This is a typical bait-and-switch scam, where you are lured in with the promise of one thing – in this case, a week's free shopping at Target – but are then presented with a completely different series of offers.

If you decide to have a look at the innocent-sounding site which your friends have Liked and Shared, it immediately implies that it is associated with the Target brand. It is not.

It implies that you can claim your gift card straight from the page, after Liking and Sharing it on Facebook. You cannot.

If you try to claim your Target gift card, you are swept away to another website. You have to sign up for a completely different "rewards program" first, typing in your first name, email address, gender, age and location. This still sounds innocent enough, although the Target gift card is noticeably absent by now.

Once you've signed up, there still isn't any gift card to claim. Instead, there's a choice of nine previously-unmentioned offers, targetted to the information you just entered. I pretended to be a 59-year-old Australian female, and the Target gift card I was expecting magically morphed into a special "senior deals" offer for Aussies over 55.

Of course, the senior deals offer is no such thing. It's just a site on which you sign up to yet another direct marketing database. There aren't actually any deals there. All this site promises is that it will email me a weekly newsletter outlining yet more special deals, now I've qualified my interest. And so the circle continues.

The "bait" sounds great - a week's free shopping at Target. The "switch" is that you end up joining a bunch of third-party marketing services which will do little or nothing more than simply aggregating other people's offers, emailing them to you, and earning affiliate fees for anything they eventually do get you to sign up for.

See how quickly the Target gift card disappeared? See how smoothly the replacement "deals" came in? It's a maze of smoke and mirrors.

The worst part is that by the end of the maze, you've probably forgotten that, to enter the maze in the first place, you willingly Liked and Shared the starting page with all your Facebook friends.

A bait-and-switch asks you to endorse and to promote it up front, before you've even seen what's it's all about. That's simply not fair on your friends. If you have already fallen for this one, be sure to remove the Like and Share messages from your own Facebook wall, so you don't accidentally draw anyone else in. (Why not recommend this article instead, to warn your friends about the scam?)

Be socially responsible! Don't Like web pages until you have seen what they're all about!

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog