like-farmingFacebook is a convenient way for many people to keep in touch with friends and loved ones, but it’s not all fun and games. While the service is relatively secure, there are scammers on the site who will stop at nothing to get you to engage in behavior that will compromise your identity, account or device. While liking a post or a page is one of the most innocuous things you can do on Facebook, indiscriminately liking content — especially that of strangers — might not be the safest decision. Continue reading as we discuss like-farming, one of the most popular methods scammers use to lure you into liking content, and the potential consequences of liking such posts.

What is like-farming?

Like-farming is one of Facebook’s most persistent scams and one that many of us have likely encountered. If you’ve ever seen a post asking for likes using a sympathetic pretext, then you’ve probably seen like-farming in action. Some of the most common ploys involve children with debilitating, lifelong or terminal illnesses, pledges to donate a certain dollar amount to a cause based on how many likes the post gets or likes for celebrities or religious figures — note that not all of these posts are scams, but it can sometimes be hard to tell whether the post is legitimate or not. The scam can deal with more lighthearted content as well, such as asking for likes to enroll users into a prize drawing, inviting users to guess the answer to “impossible questions” or making requests to like and share “funny” pictures or videos. The scam was recently in the news for duping users into liking the photo of a child who supposedly had cancer. The photo was actually stolen from a mother whose child merely had chickenpox. In this regard, like-farming is a nuisance for both Facebook users and the victims who have their photos stolen to perpetrate these scams, but there are more ways it can affect users.

Why is like-farming harmful?

This scam has a wide range of consequences, from harmless to catastrophic. A lot of individuals and pages may only engage in like-farming to stroke their own egos by building a large following. In cases like these, the only victims might be the individual(s) who the photograph or content was stolen from, like the parents of the child with chickenpox we mentioned above. But in other cases, like-farming scammers are attempting to make money off or steal the information of unsuspecting victims. Here’s how they do it: once a post has enough likes or comments, the scammer will edit the post to include a GoFundMe page so the scammer can gather money, or they add in a phishing link that will either collect the payment information of someone looking to “donate” or completely take over their device. What’s worse, clicking on the malicious link will oftentimes allow the hacker to take over your Facebook account and spam your online friends, who will be more likely to click on the link since it’s from someone they know.

How can I protect myself from like-farming?

1. Avoid strange or otherwise unfamiliar pages or posts. Stranger danger can happen online and off, and it’s something that not only children, but also adults should be aware of, as scammers are waiting in the online shadows to prey on unsuspecting victims. As such, you’ll want to be aware of who you friend, which pages you follow and what posts you like on Facebook. Also, remember that there’s almost no reason you should respond to requests from pages and accounts you don’t know and have no way of verifying if they’re legitimate.

2. Verify before you engage with pages or posts. There’s no catch-all rule that allows users to instantly distinguish a malicious like-farming post from an excessively clickbait-y, but genuine post. That why, before hitting the like button, you should take a look at the poster’s page to see what kind of content they produce. If it’s a page simply littered with other posts asking for likes and shares, you’ve probably stumbled upon a like-farming operation and should avoid liking or interacting with the page. It should be noted that you can confirm the legitimacy of pages which claim to represent a major brand or company by looking for a verification check — note that smaller businesses and brands may not have this check mark.

3. Be on the lookout for emotionally manipulative content. Pretexting is a technique that social engineers and con artists of all sorts use to lure you into engaging in risky behavior. If a post is shaming you, asking you to affirm your beliefs (e.g., like if you think no child should go hungry) or otherwise showing you photos and content that tug on your heart strings, you should be very critical of the author’s motives. In today’s world where emotional headlines sell, it is true you might encounter a few legitimate posts using such techniques to grab your attention, but more often than not, this type of behavior is likely something straight from the like-farming playbook.

4. Strengthen your Facebook security. Although not everyone’s images will be targeted by scammers, it’s always a wise idea to beef up your Facebook security, especially since the social media giant has been working over the past several years to strengthen the platform’s security features. One of the most important security features that the site has is the privacy checkup, which allows you to lock down your public-facing profile. If you tighten your security settings and make your posts only viewable by “friends,” people who aren’t immediate friends won’t be able to see your posts and personal information, even if they navigate to your profile or find it through a search engine. If you opt to post images publicly, you may want to consider watermarking your images with a tiny logo or something that will deter scammers from using the image — they prefer photos that can’t be traced, and watermarks (among other techniques) work to prevent exactly that.

What can you do if you’re a victim of a like-farming scam or you spot a scam?

1. Report the account to Facebook. Whether you fall for the scam yourself or you spot a potential like-farming scam, you should report the post and the page, as Facebook details here. By reporting the page and post, you can protect other Facebook users from falling victim to the potential scam. You may also want to alert your friends about the scam post, and ask them to report it if it shows up on their feed — even if it’s tied to your page.

2. Change your passwords and consider additional security steps. Although all Facebook like-farming scams don’t aim to take over your page and scam your friends, a large number of them do. The easiest way to combat this is to change your password and consider adding two-factor authentication to your Facebook account, which will require you to enter not only your Facebook password, but also a one-time code that’s sent to you via text message before you can successfully log in — this also serves as an alert system if someone tries to hack into your account.

Since social media is a major part of our lives, it’s not really surprising to hear that scammers are using the platform to exploit money and personal information from victims. For more information about staying safe on social media, keep reading our social media blog.