by: Terrence O'Brien — Feb 23rd 2010 at 10:18AM
Facebook has become an indispensable part of daily life for many people. They use it to keep in touch with friends and family, to play games, and to track down old flames. So, it's only natural that folks would panic at the thought of having to pay for what has been a free service. And, of course, there are plenty of e-con men willing to exploit that fear for profit.
The 'We Will Not Pay for Facebook' Scam
Back in December, a group protesting Facebook and the company's rumored plans to charge users $4.99 a month, amassed well over 100,000 members. Of course, it was a giant scam; Facebook had no such agenda, and the group merely served to distribute links to a site that loaded up visiting PCs with malware. Two months later, the scam is back, this time claiming that Facebook plans to charge $3.99. And it's been even more successful. The three groups perpetrating the hoax have collected roughly 340,000 gullible Facebook users, and the number is still climbing.
A Facebook spokesperson denied even the possibility of such plans to the Telegraph, saying, "We have no plans to charge users for Facebook's basic services. Facebook is a free service..." That's a pretty clear statement, so why does this rumor seem so reluctant to die?
There are other scams that play on, and add to, the confusion. The age-old "gold membership" scam has made its way to Facebook. These "upgrade" groups and pages prey on the unfounded fear of subscription fees, urging users: "GET YOUR UPGRADE WHILE THEIR FREE!!"
The promised free upgrade to the (nonexistent) Facebook Gold account leads you on a wild goose chase in which you spread the scam by inviting your friends, fill out a pointless survey, and ultimately hand over your cell phone number and sign up for a bogus service. The service, of course, does absolutely nothing, and charges your cell phone bill several dollars every month.
First, these are relatively well-constructed scams with believable rationales behind their claims of forthcoming fees. The groups' creators (or creator) claim that Facebook, hemorrhaging cash, is on the verge of being bought out by a nameless corporate entity. The groups even provide links to fake articles about the impending subscription fee. The Gold Membership trick only enhances the believability of the rumors. Users who may have been initially skeptical of the claims that Facebook planned to charge may suddenly become believers at the sight of a Facebook Gold Account logo.
Additionally, Facebook is not doing much to put their members' minds at ease. Not content with Facebook being a social network funded primarily through advertising, founder Mark Zuckerberg has pushed for the site's evolution into a development platform and marketplace. The latest fuel on the fire is Facebook's partnership with PayPal. The deal could allow users and companies to pay for ads, add credits for in-app purchases, and to buy games -- all using PayPal, and all directly through Facebook.
Facebook has also done very little to squash the false rumors; the groups seem to survive without much threat of deletion. The company's denial of the rumors is also vague enough (only stating that "Facebook's basic services" will always be free) to keep the truly paranoid person's mind churning.
None of that changes the fact that these groups are obvious scams. They're loaded with shady links and spam messages, and the administrators of all three groups use the same Cat Eye Promotions logo as their profile images.
How to Avoid the Scams
Just be smart. The gold membership pages are the most obvious. The groups urge you to upgrade "WHILE THEIR FREE." And, as if such flagrant misuse of the English language didn't set off enough alarms, you'll notice that the "comments" on these pages are just static images tied to malicious links.
In the end, the real reason people fall for the ruse is a willingness to believe anything they read, mixed with a palpable financial paranoia. This isn't unique to social networking and malware distributors, though. Less than admirable agenda-ists have been using similar tricks since the dawn of the nation.
This article was an eye opener for many people and hopefully, all of my friends and readers.
That's it for now. More soon.
Stay Tuned !