Today my social media feeds were overrun with this:
An identical gambit is running on Twitter, with similar success. Let me be clear. This is not real. People don’t just give away money like this.
This is a scam.
More to the point, you can avoid falling for things like this with a little bit of simple detective work.
A brief primer on detecting Internet scams:
If something seems to good to be true, it probably is.
Money can make people blind enough to forget his basic piece of motherly advice. Let me be your Internet mother for a second:
Let Me Google That For You
The first thing you should do when faced with a dubious claim or offer is to GOOGLE THE PERSON OR COMPANY. For instance, Googling Cynthia Stafford turns up a Forbes article which reveals she won the lottery in 2007, and her official Twitter account. OH HEY LOOK, her Twitter handle is right there on the search results page: @visualizewithme.
It is not @CynthiaStafford112m. It makes no mention of the @CynthiaStafford112m account. Big red flag. There are also no news articles or interviews about the social media stunt, which there surely would be if this was a legitimate promotion.
Investigate the Content
This particular scam is gaining credibility by posting images of well-known celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry endorsing the giveaway on social media. The only problem is that these images are doctored. Poorly, at that.
Anyone who is familiar with Twitter should be able to spot the issue with these Photoshopped tweets. If you are not familiar with Twitter, let me help you out: There is no blue checkmark to show that the accounts are verified. The verified account system exists to prevent exactly this sort of fraud.
Besides the tweets not showing the verified account checkmark (which can easily be photoshopped), notice that both messages use extremely similar language. This is another red flag; as someone who has worked as a social media manager before, you need to try and be creative when repurposing the content of others. You would not see two major brands with such similar style.
Even if you don’t notice the checkmark, a simple visit to the pages of Oprah or Ellen would reveal that these tweets don’t exist. If you’re already on Twitter, it takes only a few seconds to double-check the veracity of these endorsements. Like… literally two seconds. @Oprah is six characters. It takes more keystrokes to visit Redtube and I know you aren’t complaining about how hard that is.
These scams use money to lure in followers
They also cleverly use you to spread the message and recruit others by asking you to screenshot the promotion and tag your friends. This is viral marketing at its most pure. You are spreading an erroneous message exponentially; your friends are more likely to spread it themselves because they trust the source of the message— you.
Once the account has accrued as many followers as the scam will allow, it will change its handle or its focus. Sure, it will no doubt lose many followers who realize the deception, but many, many people will simply ignore it or forget how they ended up subscribed. From there, the scammer has a captive audience much bigger and much more quickly than they could have built it organically.
Just a basic bit of education for everyone out there who doesn’t know or use these steps. I hope you’ll be a bit more critical and informed going forward!