If something seems too good to be true
The old idiom is certainly true when it comes to #instagram
When @duckduckgo sent out this tweet and my reaction is this isn’t the half of it. If #facebook was only used to spam creepy ads at it’s users, that wouldn’t be so bad. I decided I’d sit down and document my experience with Instagram scam ads.
This post is about the continuous deluge of scam adverts that I’ve reported in 2020 and 2021. It’s impossible to go back and count, but I must be at, or beyond 100 accepted reports, and those are just the ones I’ve reported.
It’s Just A Joke, Right?
According to various sources, Instagram has some 500-million daily active users. If just one percent of users are targeted by scam adverts; and of those 5-million, just 0.001% click on Shop Now, and buy a product, that’s a take of $3,000 per day, and if the Ad is active for 5-days, it could net upwards of $20,000. It’s reasonable to assume that the scam ads that I am being shown are not the only ones. Even if many of the 100 accepted scam reports I’ve had are linked to the same 5-websites, that’s still $100,000 scammed from Instagram users. Of course it could be much worse, and involve much higher loses for Instagram users.
So How Do I know It’s A Scam?
The ads featured here are for Dell computers, but I’ve seen and reported a stream for cheap bicycles, and turntables. All of which are things I’m interested in, so this is not just random adverts which I’ve stumbled upon. They are adverts that #facebook and #instagram have specifically targeted at me. I’m sure there must be scams for Nike shoes, Gucci bags and so much more. Here is a selection of the scammer advertisements I’ve been served on #instagram. They share common features:
- The user that placed the ad doesn’t have an Instagram ID, the ad was placed using Facebook.
- The ad sponsor doesn’t match the company of the products being advertised. This may indicate a Facebook user account that has been taken over, or more likely a ‘bot account established just to send purchase scam adverts. Note this isn’t required, see the bike scam ads after the dell computers, it has the same name.
- The website the advert takes you to isn’t the same as the sponsor name, in fact in often doesn’t have a name even related to the product being sold. This allows easy reuse of the website, just create a new ID, place the ad pointing to the same website.
- The price is too good to pass, usually under $100, even for items that would cost 10x that price at full retail.
If you take the “Shop Now” links, the websites also have many things in common, and some even share pretty much everything, except the company name and the product(s). Here are the key identifiers that it’s a scam, using worryfreeshop as an example. Worryfreeshop was interesting in so much as their ad and website were the same, they rarely are.
The worryfreeshop website is still up, you are welcome to go have a look, I won’t link to it though.
- The websites are fairly sparse. Only a few products are available for sale.
- No matter what the product, typically the price is below $100
- While poor English and spelling isn’t unique to scam websites, it’s pretty much mandatory for them. In this case it’s right there in the first three words. Also, see the standard footer for more errors.
- It makes claims that don’t make sense. In this case they claim a team of 30+ full and part-time employees, supported by sales of just a few items. Of course, if they don’t send products, it’s easy to take on remote employees to implement parts of the scam, probably unknown to those contractors, if they exist.
- They offer unqualified, free returns. Because they have no intention of shipping you anything, so you won’t be able to return it.
- There is no address for the company, not even a country of business registration.
- The “returns page” uses an email at a different email domain, in this case fastonlinedeal dot com, it’s a parked domain at godaddy.
- The web page contains standard social media style contact icons, they either don’t work, you click they go nowhere or link back to the same page you are already on.
- Even the finance icons for Mastercard, VISA, etc. don’t work, don’t take you to default pages.
The checkout for Worryfreeshop uses Woocommerce and Paypal. Shopify is also used. As of writing, Worryfreeshop returns an error and doesn’t even bring up the payment page. That’s good as it means for now, no one else is getting scammed by the Worryfreeshop website.
The SSEREINI bike adverts and website are the most comprehensive I’ve seen. All that appears to be missing is an actual address for the company. They provide a phone number, and email contact address, but the website still contains tell tale errors. The “contact us” page give their email address and says “or by using the form located on this page” – except there isn’t a form. The return policy seems pretty great, until you read the conditions.
As with the Sserein-sale ID above, almost exclusively, the ads shown on Instagram come from the Facebook ad platform and there is no equivalent Instagram ID. My view is this leans towards the ID’s being specially create to scam, ‘bot ID’s if you will.
Click on the three-dot menu in the top right, select “Report AD”, mark it as a scam, and Instagram acknowledges your report. Once you report the ad you are unable to go back and view it, or any of the account details etc.
The Waiting Game
The amount of time it takes Instagram to “investigate” your report seems entirely variable. Some take 1-2 days, others take 10-15 days to get a response. Since the ads do not come from an Instagram user, it’s pretty impossible to search for the ads to see if they are still available to others.
When Instagram do respond, you don’t get any details, and they apparently remove the ad. Since you can’t search for ads, and the users are not on Instagram, we just have to trust them they’ve removed the ad you reported. You can’t find any other details of what the violation was.
Can #Facebook Do Anything?
Given #facebook tends to try to solve everything with automation, it’s just bizarre that so many of these #instagram ads use the same pictures and that they do nothing to stop ads flooding the Instagram platform. But then, why should Facebook do anything?
Facebook are making money from the ads, they are not losing any revenue if the ads succeed, it just shows a callous disregard for their users.
Apple is in the middle of a storm about automatically scanning pictures on your iPhone for matches to a child pornography database, but #facebook can’t even spot the same pictures being used in scams, over and over again
Ironically, Facebook could then block access to websites associated with scam adverts from their apps. After all, the only real evidence that Facebook/Instagram can have to remove the advert, is the scam website, and they should block access to it.
Ironically while cross checking the issues and claims in this post while writing today, I was shown this advert by Instagram.
The multi-image advert was warning about advertising with Google Ads and wasting money due to bots, scams, and bad actors. I initially thought it might be a joke/scam, but the website is the same name as the person/company that placed they ad, and it seems real and is addressing click-fraud.
facebook continues to fail at pretty much everything, except making money. If you see an ad that seems “to good to be true” report it as a scam. Not only are you protecting your fellow users from falling for the con, but you are also making Facebook work for their money.
In reality, Instagram is toxic when it comes to buying anything. There are so many scams, cons, grifters etc. that my rule is never buy or send money to anyone for any reason as a result of seeing something on instagram.
Scam Detector Media Inc. has a whole website dedicated to Instagram scams [Here].