How to Avoid Fake Ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Other Social Media


Dennis Creedon was scrolling through his Facebook feed when he saw a stamp sale.

The social media website showed an ad offering 100 regular U.S. postage stamps for $ 46, below their face value of $ 58. The announcement noted that stamp prices had jumped in August and warned that they may rise again. As the holidays approach, Creedon decided to buy them.

But Creedon, who lives in Pier 5 condos near Penn’s Landing, quickly grew suspicious. The stamps did not arrive until a month after his September order. When they came, they were in a stamped China envelope that called the stamps “self-adhesive”. These are signs that they are probably fake, postal inspectors later said.

Meta – the company formerly known as Facebook – initially told Creedon that the online seller was not breaking their rules, according to a message he sent them. But after The Inquirer asked about his case, Meta removed the advertiser from its platform. Creedon, 67, also got a refund from PayPal after The Inquirer got involved.

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“These pages were removed from our platform after repeatedly breaking our policies against deceptive and deceptive practices designed to defraud people,” said a spokesperson for Meta.

Creedon appears to be the victim of a growing number of online shopping scams made worse by the pandemic, which has pushed people to buy more products online. According to experts, many reports of online fraud come from advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. One of the most popular things lately is selling counterfeit stamps as consumers send greeting cards to loved ones.

Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, prohibits advertisers from making misleading product claims. But critics say tech giants like Meta aren’t doing enough to control their platforms. Consumers and businesses posing as crooks have a hard time getting fraudsters removed from Facebook, said Jason Thatcher, Temple professor for management information systems. He said the platforms shy away from liability by claiming that they are not legally responsible for the conduct of their users.

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Online shopping fraud has increased for years, but has increased dramatically during the pandemic, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit that receives tens of thousands of consumer complaints a year. About 40% of these reports involve victims of online ads found on Facebook and Instagram. The BBB noted that while there are many legitimate businesses in China, it has received thousands of online shopping complaints that mention this country.

The number of online shopping fraud reports the BBB has received has almost doubled, from 9,050 in 2019 to 17,942 in 2020. The nonprofit projects it will receive 16,892 reports by the end of this year.

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This aligns with the findings of the Federal Trade Commission, which said last year that nearly one in four online shopping complaints mentioned social media. People cited Facebook or Instagram in 94% of the reports that identified a specific platform, with many saying they were addicted after seeing an ad.

In 2019, the total reported losses due to fraud from social media reached $ 134 million, according to the FTC. According to the latest figures available, reported losses were set to hit record highs in 2020, with nearly $ 117 million in the first six months of this year.

Scams are very diverse, ranging from the sale of vehicles that do not exist, to items drastically different from those promised. For example, people order cordless drills but only get screwdrivers, the BBB reported. A victim told the office that she ordered a rattan sofa for her patio and received a burlap bag instead.

Consumers may feel comfortable clicking ads on Facebook because it is the world’s largest social media platform, according to a BBB study released this month. In fact, it’s pretty easy for scammers to buy Facebook ads that show up on your feed, experts say.

“They have to do paperwork. Show that this is a registered business, ”Temple professor Thatcher said of Facebook advertisers. “Then Facebook gives them access to the tracking data of what interests people. “

Meta says it reviews all ads that appear on Facebook before they go live, but this system relies primarily on automated technology. It also collects user feedback and takes action when it sees a high volume of negative feedback.

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Creedon, the Philadelphia resident, said he was not interested in the stamps until he saw the ad. But since placing the order, he’s seen his Facebook feed inundated with suspicious stamp marketing. Some try to impersonate the Postal Service by creating accounts with minor modifications to the genuine Facebook page, such as adding a period between “US”.

“The postal service is encoded in our Constitution,” Creedon said. “And here we have a great American company that helps and encourages subversion to a constitutional article,” referring to the postage stamps.

Postal inspectors have also noticed the problem. The agency is aware of an “increase in the number of suspected counterfeit stamps” offered for sale, many of them on online platforms, a spokesperson for the United States Postal Inspection Service said in a statement. . The agency did not share specific figures or estimates. He believes many forged stamps are produced outside of the United States and is working to identify shipments entering the country.

Creedon and The Inquirer showed Philadelphia postal inspectors the “stamps” he purchased. They couldn’t confirm they were fake at first glance, but said stamps shipped from overseas, sold for less than face value, and offered by an obscure seller, were red flags.

“I think the most important is the social media location where he bought them,” said George Clark, a postal inspector. “There won’t be too many trusted partners who will be small third-party sellers on Facebook.”

The Postal Service partners with companies that resell stamps, but these are usually large retailers.

The FTC says consumers should check out a business before purchasing anything from an ad or social media post. The agency suggests typing the company name into a search engine with words like swindle Where complaint. You can also see how long a company’s website has been in business at Scammers regularly create and close websites, according to the BBB.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Thatcher said, adding that scammers often make their money on small transactions. “Consumers need to research related products and see what the regular price is, and maybe they need to call a business to find out if it’s real. “

Credit cards often offer better protection against fraud than other payment methods, according to the BBB. Consumers should take a screenshot of the ordered item in case the website goes missing or the item received differs from what was advertised.