Gift card scams and Facebook

It seems that gift card scams are the latest thing to make Facebook completely unenjoyable.

As if all the dumb games and virtual gifts weren’t accomplishing that well enough on their own. I’m just sayin’.

Basically, the gift card setup involves fake pages promising $1,000 gift cards to places like Ikea, Best Buy or other large retailers. These “fan pages” take you to other websites that harvest personal information, sometimes including account numbers. I think you can guess what happens next.

The scams are advertised through spam, compromised Facebook accounts, and by legitimate friends who think they’re helping you get hip to a great deal.

This whole scheme is just another appearance of that old Internet myth that companies just give millions of dollars away online. Folks, it just ain’t true. By the time Facebook’s admins found the Ikea gift card scam page and took it down, there were over 70,000 “fans.”

If the offer were real, than means Ikea would have had to send out $70 million worth of free gift cards. I’m not sure how much you know about capitalism, but in a profit-driven business environment, one of the things you don’t do is give people $70 million just for clicking “Join This Group.” In fact, what you’re shooting for is for people to give you their money in exchange for a product or service (preferably more than said product or service cost you in the first place). Okay, “Econ 101” is dismissed.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use Facebook at all (give me another three months and I may change my tune). However, this is what I recommend you do:

  • Use it to connect with current friends or people you lost track of.
  • Keep your privacy setting pretty strict (unless you’re a public figure, in which case you should create an “Other Public Figure” fan page; save your personal page for your inner, inner circle).
  • No farm or aquarium or other games (these give outsiders access to your profile, and they’re a massive waste of time).
  • Um, leave your exes alone. There’s a reason your paths diverged. This tip isn’t about fraud prevention. This is just “How to Not be Demented and Sad.”
  • When I say “connect,” I mean “use Facebook as a communication tool.” I’ve been known to post videos, but it’s more fun to actually discuss things. Sending each other virtual donuts just seems like a waste of life.
  • Avoid fan pages. Do you really need to be a fan of a quote from a movie? Why not just work that quote into what you type? Only join fan pages for entities you actually want updates from or communities you wish to be a part of.
  • Avoid anything that includes clicking a button that says “Allow Access” or something similar. Clicking those buttons gives third parties access to your profile information.
  • Any person or page on Facebook offering free gift cards from major retailers is setting you up for a scam. Remember that. Double-check all legitimate-sounding offers with official company websites (usually “[nameofcompany].com”).
  • Assume everything you post can be viewed by everyone in the Universe. Don’t trust those privacy settings. I’ve still got some questions about those.

Overall, I think Facebook is heading the same direction as MySpace: it starts out fun, becomes excruciatingly bad almost overnight, people (the ones over age 25, anyway) get annoyed and start abandoning the site.

Criswell Predicts: one year from now, people will be sick of Facebook and it will have fallen sharply from its #2 worldwide traffic ranking. Interacting with people in person may even become a trend!