You’re scrolling through Facebook when something catches your eye.
A friend’s just shared a post from P&O Cruise. It’s a massive competition, you could be one of 20 people to win four tickets on a 10-night cruise, with $5,000 to spend onboard.
It’s all there in the picture, ‘Mark Graham’ is standing by about a dozen boxes branded with the cruise line’s logo.
Entering is easy, all you’ve got to do is like and share the post, and send in your details so they can contact you if you win.
Yep, it’s too good to be true.
It’s a fake page designed to emulate the real P&O Cruises.
Trouble is, thousands of people appear to have fallen for it.
“The competition in question is a scam and not on the official P&O Cruises Australia Facebook page, nor is it endorsed or sponsored by P&O Cruises Australia,” a spokesman from the real P&O Cruises said.
“We do not offer golden envelope competitions and the person depicted in the photo is not the CEO of P&O Cruises Australia. If people decide to enter this competition it is important to note it isn’t connected to P&O Cruises Australia or its Facebook page in any way.”
The fake competition was up for days before it was eventually deleted, and replaced by a new one.
By Thursday the page itself was gone, but not before amassing a fanbase of 32,000 people.
So what happened to all those “entries”?
According to Queensland man Brett Christensen, who runs scam-detecting website Hoax-Slayer, anyone who handed over contact details can expect some spam.
“The information you supply will be shared with marketing firms who will subsequently inundate you with emails, phone calls, text messages, and letters urging you to buy their dubious products and services,” he said.
“Some versions trick people into subscribing to expensive text message “services” or clubs” by providing their mobile phone number. If they have trouble unsubscribing, they may need to contact their service provider for help.”
How to spot a scam competition on Facebook
In the case of ‘P&O Cruise’ and its competition, there were a couple of signs.
“The image used in the scam post was stolen from a 2015 news post published by the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth,” Mr Christensen said.
“The pictured boxes actually held 100,000 petition signatures that were to be sent to Carnival Cruise Lines. The scammers have altered the image so that the boxes appear to have P&O labels.”
The page itself also has some warning signs.
It was only created a week prior and was originally called P&O Cruise Iines (yes, with a capital ‘i’ to look like a lower-case ‘l’), but was renamed P&O Cruise soon after.
That’s cruise, not cruises. The real business name is P&O Cruises.
It’s all done that way so at first glance you may not think anything’s amiss.
“The fake page may closely resemble the genuine page. So, users who see what they think is the official company logo and name on a Facebook page, may immediately assume that the page is genuine,” Mr Christensen said.
The real P&O Cruises Australia, which has been on Facebook since 2009, is also a verified account — you can tell by the blue tick next to its profile name.
It also has a following nearly 592,000 strong on Facebook.
So why do people enter these competitions if they seem fake?
It’s a matter of “just in case” they’re real, Mr Christensen said.
“Even if they are a bit suspicious, users will often go ahead because they don’t see any harm in participating and actually believe that they may have a chance of winning the prize being offered,” he said.
Mr Christensen said many Facebook users may not realise how easy it is to create a fake Facebook page that looks like a company’s genuine page, at least at first glance.
This fake Facebook page claimed to be giving away hundreds of new cars. (Supplied: hoax-slayer.net)
“Also, the nature of social media itself means that people often do not think too deeply before hitting like and share and adding a quick comment,” he said.
“The whole process is over in seconds and the user has scrolled on to the next funny cat video without any inkling that they have played into the hands of scammers.”
Mr Christensen said Facebook is often slow to act when fake pages are flagged by users.
“Part of the problem is that, often, as soon as a fake page is removed, another will appear in its place. So, it’s a constant battle for Facebook.”
How do I check in the future if a page is legit?
First and foremost, they should check if the Facebook page running the competition has the blue “verified” tick beside the page name.
Thousands of people also fell for this fake Virgin Australia Facebook page and competition. (Supplied: hoax-slayer.net)
“High-profile brands and companies will almost always have the verified icon,” Mr Christensen said.
“If the icon is not there, then the Facebook page may be a scam and users should proceed with caution.”
If you’re afraid you’ve given away too much information, such as your credit card details, alert your bank.
“If people were tricked into downloading something such as a movie, app, or game, then they should scan their device for malware,” Mr Christensen added.
So what’s Facebook doing about it?
The social media giant says they do not allow people to create unauthentic accounts on Facebook.
“We remove accounts that violate our Community Standards and authenticity policies,” a spokesman said.
“From January to March 2018 we took down 837,000,000 pieces of spam, nearly 100 per cent of which we found and flagged before anyone reported it.
“We also disabled about 583,000,000 fake accounts — most of which were disabled within minutes of registration.
“This is in addition to the millions of fake account attempts we prevent daily from ever registering with Facebook.”
The spokesman said new technology was helping tackle bad content quicker.
“We are also investing heavily in more people to review content that is flagged,” he said.
“From time to time people may see a page that they believe is false and we encourage people to report these so that we can take steps to prevent these from appearing.”