I clicked on a Facebook ad, made a purchase, and got scammed – I thought Facebook was unaware.
I enjoy outdoor activities, and Facebook knows this well. From the photos I post, Facebook’s AI can see that the background is mostly mountains, lakes, forests, and about half of my friends are also outdoor enthusiasts. It’s like a string of zongzi, finding one target is equivalent to finding a large group of targets.
They must also know that I love mountain biking because I often see mountain biking videos on my page. They have enough information and technology to interpret what kind of person I am and can target me with tailored ads.
So I was successfully scammed – rather than saying I was scammed by a fake ad, it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t guard against Facebook – why do we need to guard against Facebook? That’s what this article is about.
Facebook’s advertising method doesn’t feel like an ad. I never click on any promotions that pop up on the internet because they are obviously ads and appear in the ad section. Facebook ads appear on the page like news, mixed in with friends’ messages, making you lose your instinctive rejection. Even if you know it’s an ad, it’s still easy to digest it as information, especially if it’s a topic you’re interested in. Facebook knows what you’re thinking and recommends it with this trustworthy label, which is called a perfect match. This is where Facebook’s advertising promotion succeeds.
Before Christmas 2020, I saw a promotion from the well-known brand Patagonia and instinctively clicked on it, just like clicking on a friend’s post.
Patagonia is an extremely conscientious company, and I support it partly because of its corporate ethics. Two months ago, founder Yvon Chouinard and his family donated the entire company, worth about 3 billion dollars, to fight global warming through trusts and NGOs. This is the world’s first example of a company donating to the earth.
Conscientious companies: In addition to their conscience, they must also share their technology:
This thin windbreaker that can be folded and put in your pocket can block wind, rain, keep you warm, and wick away sweat. Even when hiking in the mountains of Northern California in winter, bringing this one piece can adapt to different weather conditions. It can even be used for mountain biking.
This thin high-necked wool sweater with a jacket-style windbreaker outside won’t be cold even on snowy days. Outdoor sports don’t require much, nor do they require thickness, just wear technology on your body.
I have basic internet security knowledge, but when the webpage with the attractive big discount appeared in front of me, I made a fatal mistake, which was not carefully examining the almost authentic URL. At that time, a thought flashed through my mind that this news came from Facebook, and I didn’t need to bother verifying it on the official website. I never associated Facebook with fraud. This is called “tunnel vision” – when something that attracts you appears, only that thing exists in your mind, and everything else doesn’t. You can think of it as a blind spot of love at first sight.
So I bought four things and proudly recommended them to my friends.
The next day, my friend told me that the website was fake because he had also been scammed before. I called the credit card customer service to request a chargeback. The credit card company listed the transaction as a “dispute” and waited for the merchant to respond. I thought that was the end of it, but I was wrong… The problem was not that simple. Once you click on the scam, you won’t get your money back. They are well-prepared, so don’t click if you don’t want to be scammed. I’ll talk about how this unscrupulous merchant scams people online later because it’s not as important as discussing Facebook’s role.
What we should prioritize discussing in society is not fake advertisements, but Facebook’s role.
I clicked on the ad because Facebook’s algorithm found me, and I clicked on it because the ad came from Facebook. I wouldn’t have clicked on it anywhere else.
The point is: Does Facebook really not know, or is it turning a blind eye? I’ve been following this for a long time, and my personal answer is: Facebook knows, but doesn’t stop it.
Got Scammed? Let Me Recommend More Scams to You!
The next day, I revisited the fake website and, apart from the URL, it looked completely legitimate. They had copied the entire checkout process. The day before, I was too excited about the amazing discount and didn’t notice the warnings from previous victims. Ironically, the next day, Facebook recommended new ads related to Patagonia, all of which were fake. Clearly, Facebook knew I had clicked on the ad the night before and was capitalizing on my interest.
Below is a screenshot of another fake ad recommended by Facebook, with 21 comments in the bottom right corner. All the warnings were in the comments – who leaves comments on a normal ad? Only those who have been scammed. Facebook might have thought, “Didn’t you see all those comments? Serves you right.”
Clicking on a paid ad is not cheap. I’ve bought Facebook ads for events before, and each click costs $0.25 USD, which is almost 8 NTD. Facebook earns 8 NTD in less than a second. A $100 USD ad budget can be used up in less than a week. Facebook is amazing at being a matchmaker – just tell it the audience’s gender, age, city, and interests, and it will play cupid for you.
Over the next week, Facebook generously recommended 26 more fake Patagonia ads. I recorded every URL and screenshot and planned to submit them all to the FBI and FTC (Federal Trade Commission). With 26 scams in a row, Facebook had become a scam center.
Here’s another screenshot of a fake Trek bike ad. Look at those angry and laughing faces and 47 comments – would you believe that price? Serves you right. Would you not click and look at 47 comments? Serves you right.
On the other hand, if you love Trek bikes and suddenly see such an attractive ad, could you resist clicking on it without realizing it’s a scam?
Facebook not only knew about it, but also instructed employees not to stop it.
There are only two possibilities here: either Facebook is unaware and foolishly continues to promote this person, along with the hateful comments and fake ads, or they are aware but simply don’t care. They don’t care enough to protect their reputation and instead choose to profit from this scam.
If it’s the former, then I challenge Facebook’s AI. However, let’s think about it carefully: Facebook’s facial recognition technology already surpasses that of the FBI, and we’re only discussing basic text interpretation here. Isn’t Facebook’s AI capable of on-the-spot translation? Can’t it detect hate speech and fake news? The comments with plain text and even profanity are just the basics for AI. Facebook even provides the emoticons, and they know exactly how many people click on the angry face. With just 1% of their effort, they could easily block the ads. Why haven’t they done it? The only reasonable explanation is that they don’t care. They only care about clicks.
So, how much revenue did they make from this? And how many clicks did they get?
In 2021, Facebook’s advertising revenue reached a staggering $115 billion, which is equivalent to 16.5% of Taiwan’s GDP for the same year. There are various models for advertising fees, such as charging for appearing on a page, charging for clicks, charging for transactions, or charging for both clicks and transactions. The most common model is charging for clicks.
Assuming an average cost of $0.30 per click, Facebook’s advertising revenue for 2021 was generated from approximately 1 billion clicks per day. This scale is so large that it is difficult to comprehend, and can even be measured in seconds, with an average of nearly 12,000 ad clicks per second needed to generate Facebook’s wealth.
During peak periods, the rate can reach up to 20,000 clicks per second. Facebook’s cash register is every mouse and mobile phone in the world. Imagine the sound of more than 10,000 cash registers ringing non-stop every second around the world, all making money for Facebook – 24 hours a day, non-stop. Why would they refuse to include a few scams among them, or block the idiots who help them make money?
According to Bloomberg, at the annual “Stack That Money” dark marketing conference held in Berlin, Facebook was hailed as the top scammer, with attendees saying “Facebook’s job is to find the morons for me.” Other media outlets have also reported that Facebook not only tolerates scams, but also profits from them. A quick search on the internet will reveal more truths about this.
Of course, where there are ads, there are scams. This is not a new phenomenon, but compared to other social networking sites, Facebook is a “lone star”. The following video provides a deep analysis:
The video provides data and cites Bloomberg’s report that after the Berlin dark conference, Facebook invited dark marketing gurus to a Mediterranean island for a party. The video also mentions that online scams have grown three to five times since 2017, and 94% of FTC-registered online scams are related to Facebook and Instagram. This is clearly not a common phenomenon in the advertising industry, but a result created by the Facebook group. The video also mentions that senior Facebook executives directly participated in the dark marketing conference, which means that they not only knew about it, but even endorsed it. In addition, like my experience, Patagonia has become the first brand to be scammed on the Facebook platform.
Business Insider even reported that Facebook’s advertising review team had reported too many scams to their superiors, but the response they received was “as long as Facebook makes money, don’t worry about those scams.” So it’s not that they don’t know or can’t catch them, but that they know and have caught them, but their superiors want them to let it go.
It’s quite ridiculous when consumers, loyal Facebook users, and victims are scammed but have no way to file a complaint. They have to come forward and warn others not to fall for the same trick… and all of this happens on Facebook’s own website, alongside the ads that are recommended. Facebook not only turns a blind eye to this but also shows no shame. I believe that most people who have been scammed will never click again and will never trust this company again. However, their sample size is too large, and there are enough fools in the world for them to exploit.
Therefore, the conclusion is very clear: Facebook is aware of this but tells its employees not to stop it because they can profit from it.
Returning to my experience of being scammed, I will also share why once it is confirmed, the money cannot be recovered. All of this is carefully planned, and they have already anticipated your next move, so don’t think that your credit card can stop it.
So why can’t you get your money back?
To put it simply, the scam process goes like this: the credit card company asks you to contact the merchant to cancel the transaction and not to ship the goods. Of course, the merchant never responds to your emails. Then you receive a small package with a mismatched address written in pinyin. Even if you understand Chinese geography, you have no idea where it is. I can only guess that it’s a mailbox number at a postal agency in a village in Shenzhen, which is not a valid address and impossible to return. The package is small and contains a pair of sunglasses with a fake brand label.
Once you receive the goods, the transaction is considered complete, and the charge is posted to your account. When you dispute the mismatched goods with the credit card company, they ask you to prove that the goods do not match the original electronic receipt. Do you know what the original receipt says? It only says “merchandise,” with no details or items. That’s it. You can’t get your money back – you bought a “merchandise,” and they sent it to you. Case closed.
Before hanging up, I sincerely asked the customer service representative if he believed this was a well-designed scam. He said he believed it, knew it, sympathized with my situation, and had received many similar cases from Facebook in the past. However, due to company regulations, he was unable to help.
Looking back at the comments on other fake ads on Facebook, someone spent $90 on a pair of socks, someone spent $110 on a wallet, and someone received a stack of toilet paper… The process is the same: once you pay, you can no longer contact the merchant, and then you receive a lightweight package of garbage, a package of garbage with no address, a package of garbage that cannot be verified with the receipt, and the only thing missing is “thank you for being a fool” written on it. Perhaps what they really want to say is “thank you, Facebook.”
Trust for Sale at a Cheap Price: A Facebook Logo Worth Only 30 Cents
I reported 26 fake ads to Facebook, not to inform them of the issue, as they were already well aware, but to tell them that their logo is only worth 30 cents. They continuously trade users’ trust for this amount and convinced me to never trust their company again. Every Facebook user worldwide can only be fooled once, and once they are, it’s over for Facebook.
Below is a screenshot of a fake ad’s comments section, filled with reviews, profanity, jokes, and even a middle finger emoji. All of these comments are from Facebook users who were once convinced to click on the ad, only to be taken advantage of by Facebook. Yet, Facebook still shamelessly recommends these ads to me. Perhaps Facebook is right: if you don’t click on all these warnings, you’re a fool.
They sold their brand’s trust for only 30 cents. Just from this one ad, they have already betrayed the trust of 47 people. How much did they earn? Only $13 USD.
Patagonia’s official website provides a page for users to report their brand being scammed on Facebook. After submitting all the collected data, I received a reply with the most important sentence: “Let them know they are profiting from fraud on their platform. They have the tools to stop this but simply don’t.” Patagonia may not know how many times they have repeated this sentence or how many people have fallen for these scams.
This ethical company that donates to the earth can only helplessly fight against unethical practices. Those who have been scammed can only appeal to others not to fall for it again, and credit card companies can only respond with sympathy. All of these events tell us that when a giant doesn’t care about profanity and middle fingers, weak appeals and sympathy cannot stop the fraud nurtured by the giant.
This company, which has been summoned to Congress multiple times, only cares about the sound of the cash register ringing every second.
This article was originally published in my column on the Hong Kong Economic Journal.