ORLANDO, Fla. - Think twice before clicking on Facebook ads and posts promoting deals and discounts from companies like Walt Disney World and Southwest Airlines. Imposters are setting up fake Facebook pages -- designed to look like pages of major brands you trust -- then buying ads to promote contests and promotions that appear like they're being put on by the trusted company.
When someone clicks the fake promotion, they're often asked to submit personal information and do so, thinking it's going to the company they trust. However, their personal information is actually going to the mysterious imposter.
One of the imposter accounts mimicked the official Facebook page of Disney. Both pages had the same cover photo and looked alike. At the time, the imposter page had about 7,200 "likes," while the real Disney page had 13.4 million likes. But when you compared the amount of "shares" from recent promotions both pages offered, the imposter page's promotion post had 12,600 versus only 387 when we checked the amount of "shares" on the official Disney page promotion post.
When you click on the imposter promotion's link, disney-cruise-lines.com, it redirects you to nationalconsumercenter.com -- then asks you to give up personal information like your name, address and phone number.
"The downfall is you don't know where that information is going," said computer expert Robbie Kline, who owns REK computers in Orlando. "It could be going to some random person in another country -- you don't know."
One way the imposters create their Facebook pages is by spelling the company's name in a slightly different way. For example, the imposter page for Southwest Airlines used the spelling "South West Airlines" instead. Also, both imposter pages put a "period" at the end of the page name, whereas the real Disney and Southwest Airline pages do not.
A Southwest Airlines spokesman says the company is constantly monitoring social media and when an imposter page pop up, it works closely with Facebook to have them removed as quickly as possible.
"Depending on how widespread one becomes, we will determine if a broad message is necessary," said Southwest Airlines spokesman Todd Painter. "There have been times when we've screen-capped the phony page and explained that the only official Southwest page is Facebook.com/Southwest, and we will respond to individuals asking on our wall if an offer is authentic."
Disney also reports imposter pages it discovers for Facebook to take action.
Around the holidays, a contest for a Publix supermarket gift card was making its rounds on Facebook and the popular grocery store took quick action.
"Almost immediately after seeing some traces of this on our social sites, we shared a message on Facebook and Twitter to let customers know we were not affiliated with the promotion," Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens said. "We will always remain diligent to assure our customers and associates have the best experience possible when engaging on our social media platforms and the 'in store' shopping experience."
Kline simply warns his clients against clicking on Facebook ads and promotions.
"Oh yes, you're definitely putting yourself at risk -- 100 percent," Kline said. "I would recommend not clicking those ads unless you know what you're doing."
A Facebook spokesman says the social media giant is focused on making sure people are connecting with real brands and has a process in place to weed out imposters, but acknowledged there is room for improvement.
"We've built a combination of automated and manual systems to block accounts used for fraudulent purposes such as generating fake clicks or making deceptive promises, and we are constantly improving these systems to help us better identify suspicious behavior," a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.
Facebook uses a blue check mark to show when it has verified a company's page is real. However, just because a page doesn't have a blue check mark, doesn't mean it's an imposter page.
"The smaller companies typically do not have that verification," Kline said.
If you don't want to worry about whether you click on a real or fake Facebook ad, there is a third-party tool that promises to prevent all Facebook ads from showing up. It's called Ad Block Plus and can be installed into your web browser for free. Kline says it's effective.
However, while that program should stop you from seeing fake Facebook ads, it won't stop the imposter profile pages from appearing on your feed -- especially if one of your friends "shares" or "likes" it.
Kline says the bottom line is this: "Just be careful what pages you're clicking on."
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