A colleague called me the other day to share a warning.
We've all become accustomed to the phishing emails and texts – attempts by scammers to make you think there's something wrong with your account or they just need to verify one thing in order for you to click and share personal information.
I've also written recently about other scam calls and solicitations where scammers are hoping you are multitasking or not quite paying full attention and will fall for their trap.
Another growing scam is the fake ad that will lead you to a fake website that mirrors the real website for a company. In fact, if you don't do some separate research to find the real site, you could very easily fall for the ruse.
My colleague, a fellow reporter, has been looking for a tandem kayak to use with his wife since the Covid-19 pandemic started. Like many other outdoor activity goods, used kayaks and bikes have been hard to find. He bought a single kayak on Facebook Marketplace from a private seller in Stark County and had been looking for a tandem.
He'd been doing some online browsing for kayaks, so he wasn't surprised when he saw a targeted ad pop up for Pelican on Facebook for a kayak. The price was really good, so he decided to go for it.
He was about to enter his credit card information when his power went out.
That actually saved him, he said.
When he relogged back onto his computer after the power came back on and went to the history to find the website address while telling his adult daughter about the kayak, he realised the website seemed fishy. It was to cutitfifi.com, though the website looked exactly like the real Pelican website, www.pelicansport.com, which he found doing a search.
A few other fake sites, with such addresses as pelican-boats.us and pelican-outdoor.us also looked exactly like the real website. If you didn't know they were fake, you really would have a hard time figuring it out since the scammers just copy and paste the exact same pages, right down to the "history" of the company. But for one of the sites, I noticed that if you try to click on their social media accounts, they just send you directly to Facebook or Twitter without going directly to a company's page.
But again, who is going to be checking that closely?
Social media fake ad scams on the rise
Data released in October 2020 by the Federal Trade Commission showed that there has been a surge in reports from people who say they lost money to a scam that started on social media, including a spike of these complaints in the spring at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data released by the FTC shows that the number of complaints about scams that started on social media had more than tripled in the last year. People reported losing more than US$117mil (RM485mil) to this type of scam in just the first six months of 2020 compared to US$134mil (RM555mil) for all of 2019, according to the FTC's latest Consumer Protection Data Spotlight.
Online shopping topped the list of complaints from consumers who reported a scam to the FTC that originated on social media. Of these consumers, many were responding to an ad they saw on social media and reported that the item they ordered never arrived. Most of those consumers (94%) who identified the social media service in their complaint cited Facebook or Instagram as the platform they used.
Other top consumer complaints about scams that started on social media related to romance scams or economic relief or income opportunities, which often target people who have lost a job or other income because of the pandemic. About half of all romance scam reports to the FTC since 2019 involve social media, usually on Facebook or Instagram.
Real company responds
A spokeswoman for Pelican said the company, which is based in Quebec, was aware of the fraudulent websites and encouraged me to write about the fraud to make more people aware of it.
"We do receive messages from our customers asking about order tracking or simply asking if these sites are legit," said Vanessa Leger. "Customers appreciate our quick response in informing them that these sites are fraudulent and to take immediate action with their bank. They are not mad, but more concerned and want to be sure we are you aware of the situation."
Leger said "indeed, they copy all the visual of our site, but there are some flaws that can allow consumers to understand that they are not on our site."
That includes the social media discrepancies I mentioned above.
"If you believe you have made a purchase on a fraudulent website, we strongly recommend to contact your bank immediately," she said.
Facebook did not respond in time for my deadline when I reached out to ask for comment or tips on how to avoid fake ads on their platform or what they are doing to protect consumers.
Tips to avoid fraud
The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips on how to avoid social-media scam, which can also include romance scams where someone preys on another person through a dating app:
Before you buy based on an ad or post, check out the company.
Type its name in a search engine with words like or "scam" or "complaint." Never send money to a love interest you have not met in person. If you get a message from a friend about a way to get some financial relief, call them. Did they forward it to you? If not, tell them their account may have been hacked. If so, check it out before you act.
Before paying into an "opportunity" to earn money, check out www.ftc.gov/mlm. Don't make it easy for scammers to target you – check your social media privacy settings to limit what you share publicly. If you spot a scam, report it to the social media site and the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint. – Akron Beacon Journal/Tribune News Service