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Social media giveaways attract lots of “likes” and “shares” — and why not? Everyone loves a free shot at winning a valuable prize.

Cars, tiny houses, vacations and other prizes are popular giveaways on social media. But before you click on that giveaway, check it out. It could be a scam, or at least, an attempt to collect your personal information. Instead of winning a prize, you could lose money and security. Some giveaways are legitimate ways for businesses to promote their brands. Companies and nonprofits, however, should know state law, Federal Trade Commission rules and the social media site’s policies before launching a giveaway.

How can a consumer tell whether a giveaway is legitimate? Let’s look at one Facebook giveaway for clues.

A recent “Jeep Fans” page offered to give away a Jeep vehicle, and it had attracted more than 140,000 likes. But there are several red flags with the site:

  • The logo and name suggest the page might be associated with the automaker, and there’s no disclaimer on the page indicating that it isn’t. It also has the same name as the legitimate Jeep Fans community page, which has been in existence longer and has posts of actual Jeep owners.
  • Look under “Page Transparency.” The site was created on Sept. 25, 2019, suggesting it was set up only for the purposes of the supposed giveaway. Two people manage the page: One from the United States and one from Malaysia.
  • Under “About,” there is no information except a Facebook Messenger address. Compare this to the Jeep corporate page and the official Jeep Fans page, which contain multiple points of contact and other information on who created the site.
  • The photos on the page were taken from elsewhere on the Internet. Right clicking on an image and selecting “Search Google for images” shows that those pictures have been stolen from another website. Reputable pages use their own images and content.
  • The “Sign Up” button takes the user to an unsecure website with an .icu domain that asks users to confirm they are over age 16. But it goes no further. Users should always be wary about going to a third-party website to enter their personal information.
  • The page originally had urged people to sign up to win the Jeep. That post has been removed, and there is no information on the result of the giveaway. In fact, the page now contains no posts at all.
  • Finally, the page contains no terms and conditions on the giveaway, no official dates of the competition, or any other information.

So what’s going on here? Often giveaways on Facebook are simply designed to attract “likes” and followers for a page. Once that is accomplished, the creators can then remove the original content and replace it with offensive or fraudulent content; use the page to spread malware or to gather people’s personal information; or sell the page to others with similar nefarious goals.

So your innocent “like” or “share” in an attempt to win a prize could mean your name ends up on a page you had never intended; infect your computer with a virus or other tracking software; or provide your information to a marketer or scammer and put you at risk to be defrauded in the future.

Other giveaway scams are more straightforward. Consumer Affairs reported that a Facebook page with an Aldi logo offered to give away $100 gift cards to the supermarket chain. Respondents were sent to a survey site in which they were required to provide personal information, including credit card numbers. Participants never received a gift card, but they did find unauthorized charges to their credit card.

Before you consider “liking” or “sharing” a giveaway, ask yourself these questions to determine whether it’s legitimate:

Does the page have the trademarked name of a business?

Or is it a close variation intended to confuse? Is the page verified? (Look for Facebook’s blue or grey verified icon next to the Page or Profile name.) Is there a period after the name or other strange punctuation?

Does the page contain terms and conditions?

Does the page contain misspellings, grammatical errors or many typos?

Does it require you to share the page on your timeline?

Does it require you to fill out a survey to be eligible?

Facebook prohibits this requirement.

If you feel you’ve been scammed, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General‘s Office. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area) or email consumer@ag.iowa.gov.

Does it require you to fill out a survey to be eligible?

Such surveys are attempts to collect your personal information. Beware of going to third-party websites and recognize that all information you share in a survey may be sold or shared.

Does it require you to provide payment information to win?

If it does, it’s illegal. As a general rule, you should never share banking information or other personal information with unknown entities online.

Has the organization ever done a giveaway before?

Did it announce the winner on its social media channels? Everyone who has entered a contest will want to know whether a winner was chosen and a prize was given away.

Does the prize sound too good to be true?

Then it probably is.

If you feel you’ve been scammed, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General‘s Office. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area) or email consumer@ag.iowa.gov.

More information about avoiding home-improvement problems can be found on the attorney general’s website.

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