How to Detect Facebook Scams & Hoaxes Using A Simple Google Search

Every week there is a new wave of Facebook scams and hoaxes. Sometimes it is a warning that you will have to pay for Facebook if you don't click on a link. Other times it is the promise of seeing who viewed your profile, if you click on some link. There are others promising the Secrets of Farmville -- if you click on a link.  This week one of the most popular Facebook scams is the one announcing that Apple is giving away free iPads in memory of Steve Jobs, you just have to click on that link. But click on any of these links and bad things happen.

So how do you recognize which Facebook messages are genuine and which are tricks? Since I have worked in PR most of them are obvious to me. A company like Apple wanting to get news to customers never sends it by a chain letter or a Facebook wall post you have to share with friends; they are more likely to post it on their website, send out a release to the media.  But for everyone else, is there a simple way to detect them?  Yes there is, and all you need is a search engine like Google.

To test a possible scam or hoax take some key phrase from the message you have received -- like "Apple has decided to give away 1000 limited edition iPads", type it into your search engine and then add the word "scam" or "hoax". Click "search" and look what comes up. If your message is not genuine you will find that the returns are from websites dedicated to exposing scams and hoaxes. When you see a page of warnings you can be sure it is a fake and delete it immediately. And if you have friends who are very trusting and sometimes fall for these tricks you could send them a copy of this note.

You could probably detect most anyway just by applying the old rule "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is", but this method is not foolproof because it isn't always easy to know what is possible. You should also be very wary of anything "viral" -- that invites you to pass it on to your fiends -- but again a small percentage are real campaigns. The search method is much more dependable and the results are usually very clear.

UPDATED 12 October 2011 to add this note about "I Am Cleaning Out My Facebook Friend List"

Since this was first posted there has been another wave sweeping across Facebook: the "I Am Cleaning Out My Facebook Friend List" viral wall post.  If you check this with my google litmus test you will discover that this is not really a scam. It is instead an annoying viral question that does no serious harm except make people worry, waste your time and waste electricity.

This viral question is phrased so that people believe that if they don't click on "yes" they will be unfriended. In fact the yes button simply adds another 1 to the count of people who have said yes, but then it posts the same question on the pages of all your friends. This question has spread virally in this way to over a million users.

In a case like this the best thing to do is to contact the person who posted the message on your wall and ask them about it. Most likely they will say that they just clicked on yes and never meant to ask the same question to you. Then you should delete or hide the post and forget about it.

Technically this is just a viral question so Facebook does not intervene, but in this case I think they are wrong because it is both an irritating waste of everyone's time and causes unnecessary worry to many people.

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