Earlier this month, some users browsing Facebook may have seen an unexpected post, apparently from CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself.
Facebook recently rebranded itself as Meta, and the ad, which included a photo of Zuckerberg in front of a background of purple polygons, claimed to offer users a chance to invest in a new Meta cryptocurrency.
Another announcement, posted around the same time and also promoted on Facebook, linked to a page called “Metaverse” and similarly offered a presale of the upcoming “Meta token”, saying “the exciting digital future has arrived “. The ads both included Meta’s new logo, an infinity sign.
But Meta does not offer such a cryptocurrency. The ads, until recently available in Facebook’s public ad library, were frauds that escaped Facebook’s content moderation process, despite using Zuckerberg’s likeness and new company logo. .
Meta rules for advertisers on Facebook place strict limits on how ads sell cryptocurrency, but The Markup has identified several pages that have recently placed ads for non-existent “tokens” using Facebook logos. big tech companies and even the faces of some of Big Tech’s most prominent people, including Zuckerberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
While Facebook ad scams aren’t a new phenomenon, and cryptocurrency scams have plagued platforms far beyond Facebook, these ads are particularly brazen: a network of scammers impersonating the most big players in the tech industry, on the tech industry’s biggest social media platform, to shake up its users.
“Meta Tokens” and other “coins” of the technology company
The advertisements The Markup found (around 20) were from pages with names such as “Metaverse”, “Web 3.0”, “Amazon coin” or “MSFT Web 3.0 Metaverse”. Some ads ran for days before being removed, even those that featured prominent images like Meta’s or Zuckerberg’s infinity symbol logo.
One of the ads linked to a site that claimed to be associated with Meta and featured not only photos of Zuckerberg, but also of COO Sheryl Sandberg and other senior company executives.
The site claimed that the fictional token would launch with a “BIG blastoff” on February 22, and potential investors could join a pre-sale by making a purchase through the cryptocurrency bitcoin or Ethereum. Minimum investment: $200.
The markup found an ad, which promoted “the birth of META Token”, after it was posted directly to a journalist’s personal account. Others were found through Facebook’s public announcements library or through data from Citizen Browser, a tagging project that collects data from a paid panel of Facebook users in the United States.
It’s not just Meta that’s being imitated in ads, we found. Other ads used the trademarks of tech companies to push “investments” in “tokens.” One included the Apple logo and offered the option to invest in a fake “iMetaverse token”.
Panelists on The Markup’s Citizen Browser Project saw several pages devoted to nonexistent “Amazon tokens.” The pages included the e-commerce giant’s logo or photos of Bezos. According to data from Citizen Browser, two ads directly targeted users who had shown an interest in bitcoin.
“You can participate in the birth of Amazon Token and be one of the first buyers,” reads the page associated with an announcement. “Start today!”
Other ads shown to our panelists featured Musk’s face and suggested an investment in a “Tesla token.” A similar ad, also seen by Citizen Browser Project panelists, offered a token for WLMRT, a non-existent Walmart cryptocurrency.
Facebook uses a combination of AI and human moderators to flag ads. But the company’s human moderation is “totally inadequate,” and it’s unclear how many scams its AI flags before they reach users, said Paul Bischoff, editor-in-chief of Comparitech, a site that evaluates security software and monitors illegal Facebook ads.
“We don’t really know how big the problem is,” he said, “but there’s obviously still a lot of them coming through.”
Ads reviewed by The Markup are unlikely to meet the company’s ad standards. For one thing, Meta’s rules include strict restrictions around all cryptocurrency listings. Prospective sellers must meet specific eligibility criteria and then submit a form to Facebook for approval before they begin selling ads.
Advertisers on the platform also need to be careful about how they partner with Facebook. Ads can mention “Facebook” as long as it’s not the “most important feature” of an ad. Use of company logo is prohibited and advertisements cannot imply endorsement. Company policy does not specifically mention the use of “Meta”.
Some of the pages running the ads were removed before The Markup contacted Meta for comment, and the company removed others after The Markup requested comment.
“The ads reported to us violated our policies against misleading and fraudulent behavior, so we removed them,” Meta spokesman Mark Ranneberger said in an emailed statement. “Our systems improve when people report this type of behavior in ads by tapping the three dots in the top right corner and selecting “Report Ad.”
Ads aren’t the only example of Facebook dealing with copycats on its platform. In 2018, The New York Times reported how fake Mark Zuckerbergs were scamming Facebook users, luring some with a fraudulent “Facebook lottery” win, then demanding payments before receiving the money.
The Times uncovered hundreds of accounts on Facebook and Instagram posing as Zuckerberg and Sandberg.
Media personalities from several countries have sued Facebook after their images appeared in cryptocurrency scams, and in 2019 a court in the Netherlands ordered the company to shut down more proactively scam ads that feature images of celebrities.
Cryptocurrency has also become a popular tool for cybercriminals, although some high-profile busts suggest the difficulty of tracking transactions has been overstated.
In a report released last year, the Federal Trade Commission said reports of cryptocurrency fraud had “skyrocketed” with nearly 7,000 people reporting a total of more than $80 million in fraud. losses between October 2020 and May 2021, a 12-fold increase in frequency. and 1,000% lost money, according to the agency.
Around the Internet, imitation is a profitable strategy for these scams.
Twitter, for example, has spent years dealing with scammers on its platform trying to impersonate Elon Musk.
Some savvy hackers have in the past taken over verified Twitter user accounts, replaced account profile pictures with Musk’s likeness, and claimed to offer massive cryptocurrency rewards in exchange for a relatively small investment. weak in cryptocurrency.
In its recent report on cryptocurrency scams, the FTC said it received reports that Musk impersonators took more than $2 million in just six months.
According to the agency’s report, people in their 20s and 30s “reported losing significantly more money to investment scams than to any other type of fraud, and more than half of their reported losses in investment scams were about cryptocurrency,” while users aged 50 and over were relatively unlikely to report being victims of such scams.
The Facebook ad shown to a Markup reporter offering a chance to enter the ground floor of “META Token” was aimed at American men between the ages of 30 and 64 and offered them a chance to “be one of the first buyers” of the new currency.
Credits: Colin Lecher, Surya Mattu
Photo by Kanchanara on Unsplash
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