Here's what happens if you do.
Over the past month, thousands of Facebook users have shared an offer from a page titled “Delta USA” that broadcast a live video image of a Delta Air Lines boarding pass. The post promised free flights on Delta if users shared it, posted their location, and clicked on a link to submit their personal info.
That link was not to delta.com, however, but instead a site with a fishy-sounding URL. Similar offers have been appearing online for more than a year, but this was the first one I’d seen that was using Facebook Live.
I sensed immediately that this was a scam. But I wanted to find out exactly what would happen if I followed through. Fearing the worst, I took the plunge down the rabbit hole and clicked on the link to receive my “free” Delta tickets — all in the name of journalism.
I soon regretted that decision.
After submitting my contact info, I was asked to complete a quick survey about my consumer spending habits, credit history, annual household income, travel preferences, work status, and education. I was also asked about which brands I use frequently (a telling sign that I was about to get an avalanche of marketing spam).
To protect myself, I answered all of the queries with false information, but I did enter my real phone number and e-mail address.
About 30 minutes later, the first call came from a telemarketer. Then another. And another. Over the course of that first day, I received more than a dozen unwanted calls.
Of the ones I answered, most were recordings and only twice did I speak to a human. One began reading from a script about vitamins and health supplements, and the other offered me a free cruise to the Bahamas (including flights!) but I would need to answer a few more questions. Of course, I hung up.
After deleting a deluge of new spam e-mails from my inbox and blocking the numbers of telemarketers from my phone, I went back to find the Facebook page that touted the scam offer and discovered that it had been taken down, either by Facebook or by the anonymous user who originally created it.
I reached out to Delta to see if it is policing social media for potential scams, and if the company has been in contact with Facebook to try and identify the scammers.
A spokesperson confirmed that the offer was indeed fake, and directed me to the airline’s Protect Your Data webpage, which states: “Over the years, Delta has received reports of attempts by parties not affiliated with us to fraudulently gather customer information in a number of ways including fraudulent emails, social media sites, postcards, Gift Card promotional websites claiming to be from Delta Air Lines and letters or prize notifications promising free travel."
"These messages were not sent by Delta Air Lines," the webpage continues. "We do not market to our customers this way, but individuals or groups intending to gather and use your personal data for their gain can be inventive in their approach – often adding messages to generate a sense of urgency so you take action.”
Later that day, I found that a new Delta USA page had been created, similar to the one that had posted the scam. As I looked through the page’s profile photos, I discovered a major red flag: an image of a middle-aged woman taking a selfie. Had the culprit mistakenly used her own photo when she created the page?
Scams on social media are usually pretty easy to spot, with misspellings of words or company names, odd photos, and a request for you to follow a third-party link.
As technology improves, so do the hackers and scammers, who are getting smarter and better at manipulating consumers with cleverly-designed profiles on Facebook and Twitter that look genuine to the undiscerning eye.
To help you spot and avoid a scam (and the likely flood of spam e-mails and calls), trust these simple tips:
Look to see if the profile has been verified
Both Facebook as well as Twitter use blue check marks next to a profile name to indicate whether or not a user or company’s profile is verified. Only genuine Delta pages, for example, will have this label.
Analyze the web address
Are you being asked to click on a link to a third-party page that’s not hosted by the company purportedly offering the deal? Chances are good that it’s fake. Don’t give any personal information (especially bank or credit card info) unless the page has been security-encrypted. Look for URLs that begin with “https.”
Trust your gut instinct
If an offer sounds too good to be true, it’s a safe bet that you’re about to get swindled.