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Boostly UK highlights Facebook cloning scams targeting small businesses using online content to grow their audience.

Facebook has refused to remove scams targeting honest, struggling, small businesses such as holiday accommodation operators.

Scammers are increasingly targeting businesses running Facebook competitions to build their audience, Boostly shows. 

Hospitality community leader Mark Simpson was inundated with pleas for help from businesses who had their pages cloned on Facebook. Scam pages were set up to message competition entrants of the original, genuine business to tell them they had won a competition and had to give a deposit or their credit card details in order to claim the ‘prize’ (usually a couple of nights accommodation).

Facebook runs the most sophisticated technology in the world but this evidence suggests they fail to use it to prevent scammers from inundating the platform to take advantage of businesses building their audience. When fraudulent and illegal activity is reported, Facebook gives a standard response: 

We’ve reviewed the profile reported and found that it isn’t pretending to be you and doesn’t go against our Community Standards. 

If you think we should take another look, please reply to this message and let us know. 

For more information about our policies, please read the Facebook Community Standards: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards 

But the cloning scam clearly goes against Facebook’s guidelines for pages

Joanne Carroll ran a competition on 16th April to win one night’s stay at Winchcombe Farm with a distillery tour and a bottle of rum as prizes in collaboration with another business. Just four days later, they found out a fictitious account impersonated their page and Joanne posted to warn customers and competition entrants of the scam:

Police seemed unconcerned. Action Fraud told us to fill in a form, but we haven’t heard back since. Had about 70 messages and calls from followers alerting us that a new clone page directed people to a website which asked for their bank details. Facebook only took the page down after we appealed!!” Joanne Caroll, Winchcombe Farm 

Small businesses seem to have nowhere to turn.

Boostly CEO Mark Simpson was made aware of a huge influx of fraudulent activity when he ran the ‘Get Booked Up’ Challenge on Facebook (March 2021). 

“We take accommodation hosts through an intense week utilising Facebook to get thousands of new eyes on their business,” says Mark Simpson. “Hosts ran a legitimate Facebook competition as part of the challenge, giving their followers a chance to win a short holiday.” 

Boostly CEO Mark Simpson expected a couple of cases to follow and prepared to advise businesses if it happened, but the sheer volume of scams from Facebook competitions in the March challenge was ‘shocking’:

“It’s really sophisticated, it’s all automated. It’s an absolutely shocking operation.” Mark Simpson, Boostly

“What’s even worse is that Facebook fails to prevent it. I was shocked it was allowed to happen, and Facebook did nothing in some cases,” says Mark Simpson. “Better rules and verification are needed to prevent this kind of scam in the first place.” 

Holiday accommodation businesses targeted: 

  • Eileen Pratt, Old Ginn House Inn: We were targeted (November 2020). The other profile had a slightly different name and logo, but most people wouldn’t notice the difference. I followed the Facebook profile and it changed a couple of times. A number of people reported the profile, but Facebook said it didn’t contravene their rules.
  • Georgina Bearman, Sea Croft Bed, Breakfast and Bar: People reported my competition post had been scammed and people received messages saying they had won. Had to reply to all concerned explaining the winner had already been picked some days ago and it wasn’t them! 

It discredits us as a business! We have worked hard to build what we have, so it makes me think twice about using Facebook for business.Georgina Bearman, Sea Croft Bed, Breakfast and Bar.

“My page was cloned and the scammer sent friend requests to my followers/entrants. I reported it but Facebook said it didn’t go against their privacy policy. I didn’t hear from them again after I complained.”  Charlotte Lovelock, Rock Cottage 

  • Claudia Hodgson, Cheverton Farm Holidays: I began to get dozens of messages from people saying they had been messaged saying they had won and asking for card details.

Horrendous! So stressful. I didn’t know what was happening! It feels terrible”. Claudia Hodgson, Cheverton Farm Holidays

  • Emma Louise Khan, Riviera Guesthouse Whitby: “Ours was scammed and we had so many people report it to Facebook. Every single time, they told us that it didn’t contravene their rules. They made about 4 different clone pages and took all our posts and photos and shared them onto the scam pages so it looked real then started messaging guests from our page and taking money.  It caused us an awful lot of admin during the week we ran it”. [See: Press Kit]

In all honesty, it’s put us off Facebook competitions. The last thing we want is our guests scammed. It doesn’t make our business look hugely professional when there are about 5 pages with similar names and photos of our faces.” Emma Khan, Riviera Guesthouse Whitby 

Facebook is failing businesses trying to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. But while illegal, fraudulent scammers get away with no repercussions, Facebook is disproportionately banning business owners for harmless content.

In the last month:

  • A warning was given for posting a youtube link for a helpful website tutorial. 
  • 24-hour ban given for calling someone “an absolute potato”.
  • 30-day ban given for a non-violent image of a recorded historic fact.  

Facebook should upgrade their security instead of picking on words in our posts to penalise us.” Tereza Szalai, Foxy Fitness personal trainer. 

Social SOS director Meredith Hicks manages Facebook competitions for small businesses: “Businesses are really struggling with this. Food and Hospitality businesses everywhere experience this and it causes huge issues. I’ve received a lot of messages from obvious scammers.” 

“Sadly, Facebook has made it hard now to actually get anything done about fake accounts,” she says. “Business owners ask customers to support and help; they post on the real business page asking customers to be careful, and we warn people to never give out credit card details.” 

Catherine Knibbs, Trauma Adult Psychotherapist and Online Harms and Cybertrauma Advisor, says: “Cybercriminals targeting competition entrants pose as businesses to entice the ‘winners’ by hacking into their joy rather than their fear. In doing so they target people who ‘win a small break’, who are desperate to get away post lockdown.”

“A double blow for small businesses as they have their online page copied – they also have to explain to people that they did not win, have been scammed and hope that the targeted ‘winner’ hasn’t given their details to cybercriminals. But why should this responsibility fall to the business, why is Facebook not removing cloned accounts? Why is Facebook not creating a business account process where unverified accounts can be deleted to protect users?”

Mark Simpson explains the latest tactics used by scammers in this Linkedin video and advises small businesses to follow this process:

  1. Report the scam to Facebook.
  2. Comment on the competition post to warn entrants.
  3. Write a new post to inform followers.
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