Fake Tesco/Asda voucher scammers on Facebook hit with large fines

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order, Mobile

Asda supermarketTwo firms have been fined a total of £450,000 (approximately US $720,000) for running a series of scams on Facebook.

The scams, which claimed to offer free vouchers and supermarket gift cards for the likes of Tesco and Asda, resulted in members of the public signing-up for expensive premium-rate phone services.

Australian firm mBill Pty and Amazecell Limited, based in Israel, were judged by PhonepayPlus - the regulatory body for all premium rate phone-paid services in the United Kingdom - to have run deliberately misleading promotions on Facebook.

Tesco voucher scams on Facebook

The problem got so bad that Tesco warned its customers not to click on the offending links.

Tesco warning

In two separate cases, mBill and Amazecell used affiliates to promote their premium rate competitions, exploiting social networking users trust in what their online friends had "liked" and "shared", and spreading rapidly.

The promotions - which took place in 2011 - included the lure of vouchers worth up to £250 for major retailers, including Tesco and Asda, with messages posted on Facebook users' walls. The messages were either shared on walls without the users' explicit permission, or users were told they were required to 'share' the promotion in order to have a chance of receiving a voucher.

ASDA scam on Facebook

According to PhonepayPlus:

"After clicking on the promotion consumers were misled into participating in premium rate competitions. Consumers believed that these were stages towards receiving the promoted offer and did not realise that by entering their phone number they would be charged."

"In the Amazecell case, consumers were charged £5 per question sent to their phone. Consumers were subsequently charged for further questions regardless of whether or not they answered them. Over 89,000 consumers entered the service only once but were sent a second question for which they were charged."

It's pretty despicable, in my opinion, to dupe people into believing they have a chance of winning a pre-release iPhone 4S for testing, grocery vouchers, theme park tickets or a new iPad or Dell laptop, only to sign them up for expensive £5-a-go SMS messages.

PhonepayPlus' Tribunal found that the companies had breached the Code of Practice by misleading consumers and not providing clear pricing information. Amazecell Ltd was fined £300,000 and mBill Pty Ltd was fined £150,000. Both have been ordered to refund any consumers who request a refund.

Aside from the Tesco and ASDA Facebook scams, Sophos has also warned of Facebook scams involving other retailers - including Argos, Pizza Hut, Costco, JB Hifi, Apple iTunes, Amazon, Tim Hortons and Starbucks.

Another Tesco scam on Facebook

Sadly Facebook is rife with scams such as this, duping users into making expensive mistakes and unwittingly tricking their friends to also sign up.

Make sure that you keep informed about the latest scams spreading fast across Facebook and attacks elsewhere on the internet. Join the Sophos page on Facebook, where over 190,000 people regularly share information on threats and discuss the latest security news.

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10 Responses to Fake Tesco/Asda voucher scammers on Facebook hit with large fines

  1. Robert Gracie · 1090 days ago

    Finally it has been done the 2 companies have been taken down due to this...the justice system works!!!! now lets hope the other scams like this go the same way as this and the Dodo they become extinct over the next few months!

    • Nigel · 1090 days ago

      Your faith in "the justice system" is misplaced. Laws and threats of punishment are not sufficient to deter people from doing bad things to each other. The bad guys do it because they can.

      I'm not sure which is more frightening...the fact that there are people who fall for scams like the one reported here, or that you actually believe there's any possibility that human nature will change enough in the next few months to make such scams extinct.

      • Robert Gracie · 1088 days ago

        Ah thanks Nigel for that but I was just saying as a term of phrase but its good to see these companies have been shut down

  2. Don't need this · 1090 days ago

    So mBill dot net got a fine and told to refund people who asked - wow that might affect their profits. Then again maybe not. Their business seems to have weathered the slap on the wrist. Seriously what sort of message does this send. The owners should be jailed or taken to the uk and flogged.

  3. Andy · 1090 days ago

    Amazecell ripped off over 89,000 people at £5 per question . Thats around £4,500,00 for the first question. Then another £5 per person for the second question. The £300,000 fine is hardly a deterrent, it is just a cost of doing business.

    Some people will go through what I expect will be a complicated time consuming process to get a refund. The majority will probably not bother.

  4. David Emeny · 1090 days ago

    Fining htese firms is useless, They make their money anyway. The only way is to lock up the board. They should be remanded in custody whilst awaiting trail, like othe villians.

  5. sel · 1088 days ago

    few days back, i've discovered a new fb spam and report it to nakedsecurity. but there is no response . From now onwards, i won't report anything to sophos .

    • Paul Ducklin · 1087 days ago

      @Sel - I'm afraid to have to say that we can't write about every scam that's reported to us, for the rather sorry reason that there are just too many of them. We try to pick ones which we think are the most widespread, the most likely to convey a general message, or (as we did here) those where the scammers actually got stung.

      (We like to congratulate law enforcement and the relevant regulators when they bring someone to justice.)

      What I hope this story tells you is that if you lodge a formal complaint with a government-appointed regulator (in this case, PhonePayPlus, who watch over premium rate phone numbers in the UK) then it can make a difference. Maybe not a lot of difference, but a difference nevertheless.

      As for reporting stuff to Naked Security - we welcome your submissions and we endeavour to make use of them. But we can't always do so - we have to pick our battles. Sorry about that.

  6. Rory · 1088 days ago

    I run a vbulletin forum and i gather facebook could easily ban these companys through their IPs if they really wanted to make a difference. By doing nothing to prevent these from continuing is hardly any sort of effort. I get alot of so called scams but an IP block puts an end to them. Facebook should be making a proper stand against these companys and banning them from getting near its network.

  7. John · 1087 days ago

    Voucher scams are now hitting Dutch and Belgian Facebook users, using local stores Albert Heijn and Colruyt instead of Tesco/ASDA.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley