AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
We've all seen those random Facebook links appear in our news stream, which say things like 'click 'like' if you admire war veterans', 'hate cancer' or the old 'see what happens to the cat next'. Many of us will have clicked on them, been a little disappointed when nothing happened, and then moved on.
However, in the process we will have helped the spammers get rich at our expense.
Fight back - latest on scams
The spam scam
There are hundreds of these doing the rounds online, some which say that if you post a particular comment in a box you can see something happen. Others simply ask you to show support for the sort of cause that everyone already supports.
Of course the comments never work, because by putting text in a particular field you cannot change a picture, but this doesn't stop tens of thousands of people falling for them. Graham Cluley, a technology expert from Sophos says that these pages are what is known as clickjacking or likejacking.
Fight back - latest on scams
It begs the question of why anyone bothers producing and spreading these things. The answer has been revealed by Daylan Pearce, a search-engine expert at Next Digital in Melbourne in a blog
post. They do it so that you can generate money for them.
The answer lies in the rules of the Facebook page. The idea is that Facebook itself can see whether content is popular and whether it is of value to other users - and it does this by looking at the number of 'likes' and 'comments' the post has. If it is very popular it will get more exposure on other people's news feeds. It also feeds into your profile's score - the better your score, the higher you will appear on other people's news feeds.
If someone somewhere wants to improve the score of their profile they will need to devote time and effort to do so, creating content that people genuinely like. Alternatively, however, they can cheat, and buy a page that already has a high score. This is where the spammers come in.
They create a page with a ridiculous premise or heart-wrenching story and ask people to comment or like it. They then share it. In order to work, they have to be a relatively large gang of people, who have spent a bit of time building up their profile score. This means that over time, the link will find its way onto the pages of real people. They like or comment on it, and it spreads until tens of thousands of people have liked and commented.
The user then changes a few details of the page and suddenly anyone can buy it, with a pre-prepared high profile score.
It means that not only are you filling the news feeds of your friends with rubbish, but you're doing so in order to earn money for spammers and the cause you think you're supporting gets nothing. The advice, therefore, is to avoid clicking on these things.
Your commenting on a piece will never make the picture do something, and your liking it will never cure disease or 'show your support' for anything other than a bunch of professionals who have set out to exploit you.
- 1. Land banking
Land banking involves plots of land offered for sale, often online, with the promise of sizable returns when planning permission is approved for housing or other development. Yet often the land is located in areas protected from development by planning law.</p>
The companies involved soon disappear with investors' money and as the firms are not protected by the Financial Services Authority, their funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme</p>
- 2. Money mule
Fraudsters recruit unknowing accomplices through email under the guise of offering employment, seeking a personal favour, or through internet shopping sites. The recruits are persuaded into receiving what are essentially fraudulent payments and then passing funds on.</p>
The 'mules' are frequently offered a small financial incentive to encourage involvement and face difficulties in proving their innocence when the fraud is discovered.</p>
- 3. Carbon credit fraud
The scams claim to offer people the chance to profit from carbon credits. Under regulations that permit businesses to emit a tonne of CO2 – the companies claim to offer investment in green projects like a forestry scheme or a solar panel project, which generates carbon credits that are then sold on to heavy industry.</p>
A flashy brochure or website tells of a reliable 'government-backed' scheme which provides reliable returns for investors. Such a scheme doesn't exist however – a reality investors only discovered when they have parted with their cash and the company is untraceable. As with land banking, fraudulent companies are not covered by the FSA so victims have no course for recompense</p>
- 4. HMRC phishing scam
Receiving an email from the taxman saying you are owed a payment may seem like a nice surprise, but it is actually from fraudsters trying to relieve you of your cash instead.</p>
The emails provide a "click-through link" to a cloned replica of the HMRC website. The recipient is then asked to provide their credit or debit card details - all the information the criminals need to clear your account, and sell on your personal details.</p>
- 5. Disappearing loan scam
This scam targets vulnerable people who are in financial difficulty and unable to access credit through regular channels like overdrafts and credit cards.</p>
The fraudsters advertise loans and those that sign up are asked to pay an upfront 'arrangement' fee of around £60-£70 fee before the loan is approved. Borrowers pay the fee only for the 'loan providers' to disappear without a trace.</p>
- 6. Crash for cash scams
Insurer Direct Line reported a hike in the number of 'crash for cash' scams last year – where fraudsters fake accidents by making unnecessary emergency stops at busy roundabouts or slip roads, forcing motorists to crash into them.</p>
They then make bogus claims to the innocent motorist's insurer, often including fictitious injuries and passengers.</p>
- 7. Driving school scams
Learner drivers have been taken for ride by being unknowingly taught by trainee instructors. An investigation by the AA found up to 27,000 extra driving tests have been failed in the last year because one in 10 learner drivers are unwittingly taught by an instructor they do not know is learning on the job.</p>
- 8. One man mail scam
July saw the arrest of a Leicester postman who stole £46,686 worth of mail over two-and-a-half years. Yogeshbhai Patel, 38, was jailed for two years for stealing mail including 2,000 DVDs and 2,250 games along with CDs and other electrical equipment. He intercepting the valuable packages and spent the money on living a luxury lifestyle including helicopter rides and a trip to Las Vegas.</p>
- 9. Smart meter scam
The Trading Standards Institute reported over 200 cases where elderly homeowners have been targeted by telephone cold callers, purporting to be from their energy supplier and offering energy saving devices which could cut their bills by 40%.</p>
The TSI tested the devices in homes where owners had fallen for the scam, only to find they both failed to satisfy electrical safety standards or deliver any tangible energy savings.</p>
- 10. Thermal camera fraud
Thermal cameras that track ATM pin numbers are the latest weapon in their arsenal and US scientists have warned it is the next threat for this form of crime. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that up to 45 seconds after a person types their pin code into an ATM machine or door entry pad the numbers and even the sequence are still readable by thermal cameras.</p>