Are You Helping Scammers By Liking the Wrong Facebook Sweepstakes?

Facebook Like Farmers Use Sweepstakes to Scam Unwary Participants

Happy, waving teenagers using computers and social networking
Protect Yourself and Your Friends by Putting a Stop to Like Farming. Gregory Baldwin / Getty Images

If you enter Facebook sweepstakes, you know that many of them ask you to like, share, or otherwise interact with their posts in order to get a chance to win. Legitimate companies do this to build a following on Facebook. However, scammers use these methods, too, in a type of scam known as like-farming.

You might think that tossing a like on a sketchy-looking giveaway post can't do any harm and might end up with you winning you a prize, but in reality, it can be dangerous.

Here's why you should pay close attention to what you like and avoid anything that doesn't look legitimate.

What Like Farming Is and Why You Should Care

Like farming is a way to game Facebook's algorithms to turn a worthless page into a valuable one or to make scammers seem trustworthy when they're not.

Basically, the more people like a page and spread the content they post, the more often Facebook displays posts that page makes. People are more likely to share high-quality posts and to like high-quality pages, so Facebook's algorithm should give those posts and pages priority. Which works well, unless people purposely attract likes to a page and then use the page's popularity for nefarious purposes, which is known as like farming.

Like Farming Poses Real Risks to You and Your Facebook Friends

CNN's article, On Facebook, click 'like' can help scammers runs through some of the ways that like farming can be misused including:

  • changing the focus of a popular page from something that people found interesting into a way to spam followers with offers for low-quality or untrustworthy products
  • selling a popular page to unscrupulous marketers on the black market, who will use it to spam followers
  • using the page to promote a Facebook app that can harvest your information
  • misusing the demographic information that Facebook provides to page owners to target the people who like their page
  • using the page's trusted status to run phishing scams to collect sensitive information like credit card numbers
  • spreading malware and viruses

How Like Farming Works:

The problem with using likes to determine whether a page is worthwhile is that it's pretty easy to convince people to like a post. It takes just a very little bit of motivation, which sweepstakes can provide.

Sweepstakes are profitable for like farmers. They can run a quick and easy farming method by saying that they'll give away prizes when they reach a certain number of page likes or to people who like, share, and/or comment on one of their posts. Or they can link to another page that offers a giveaway opportunity but is really just phishing for your personal information.

Sadly, giveaways aren't the only thing you need to watch out for, there are plenty of other ways to like farm as well. If you've ever seen a post that says something like, "This poor child doesn't have any friends. Show them you care by liking their picture!" or "I bet you can't name a city without the letter 'a' in it!" then you've witnessed a like farming attempt.

Like farmers drive engagement for their posts by manipulating your emotions. They'll encourage you to like a post in order to help a sick child (who probably doesn't need your help, and might feel victimized because their picture is being misused), to stop animal abuse, to make someone feel better after losing a loved one, to express religious beliefs ('click like if you love Jesus!'), or to share your opinion about a hot political issue.

Another tactic is to give you a chance to show off. They might offer a quiz that 'only geniuses can get right' or challenge you to name a country that has a certain letter in the name. They make it seem like these things are hard to do so that people will show off by commenting on the posts when in reality most people can fulfill the challenges with no trouble.

How to Recognize and Avoid Like Farming Sweepstakes Scams

At first blush, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate giveaway being offered by a small company and a Facebook like farming sweepstakes scam. However, with a little bit of research, you'll be able to tell the difference quickly. Here are some of the things you can do to recognize and avoid like farming giveaways:

  • Check out the page offering the giveaway. What kind of information do they post? Is it mostly giveaways and memes, or do they have plenty of other interesting and informational posts that fit their brand's topic as well? If they mostly have memes and other junk, it's not a good sign that you can trust the page.
  • How old is the page offering the giveaway? Scroll through the posts on the page offering the giveaway. If you don't see any posts older than a few weeks or months, that's a good reason to be suspicious.
  • How is the grammar in the posts? Many like farmers aren't native English speakers or they simply don't bother with good spelling or grammar. If the giveaway post or the other posts on the page are badly written and difficult to read, it's a bad sign.
  • Who is sponsoring the giveaway? Is there a legitimate company backing the Facebook page? And if it looks like a real company or product is behind the page, do they link to it from their main company website? Determining this can take a bit of digging. Beware of like farmers who attempt to spoof legitimate companies to make themselves seem more trustworthy and don't simply accept a familiar name as legit. Read about fake Facebook page scams for more details.
  • How believable is the giveaway? A chance to win an iPad is believable. A Samsung Facebook page simply handing out thousands of Apple iPads to the first people who like their page because the boxes are unsealed? Not so much. Giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of prizes in a throwaway Facebook post is unlikely. Samsung giving away Apple products makes no sense. This type of giveaway isn't trustworthy.
  • Are the rules clearly stated? Legitimate sweepstakes have clearly-stated rules that tell you who can enter, how many prizes are awarded, how many times you can enter, when the giveaway ends and the prizes will be awarded, and other important information. If a giveaway only says you need to like and share to enter, with no other details, don't trust it.

By paying attention to these guidelines and using your own common sense, you can weed out a lot of like farming scams.

Remember: Think Before You Like!

While it seems like liking a post can't possibly do any real harm, the truth is that you can not only put yourself at risk, but also expose your friends, family members, and coworkers, and other people who follow your own Facebook account to scams, spam, and malicious viruses.

Be sure to be a good internet citizen by avoiding liking or following sites that you don't know and trust. Take time to investigate Facebook giveaways before you enter and especially before you share the post with your friends. 

You can fight like farming by refusing to spread the word or to make their tactics more profitable. And make sure your friends know about like farming as well, so that these viral scams get stopped in their tracks.