How to Spot Facebook Contest Scams

Don't let fake Facebook pages trick you into giving up money and more.

Man with digital tablet displaying a smiling face
••• A scammer could be lurking behind a scam Facebook page... Erik Dreyer / Getty Images

When Juanita Molinar was contacted by HGTV's Property Brothers telling her that she had won a prize, she was excited. Ecstatic... until she noticed that things weren't adding up like they should. After doing some research, she realized that she'd nearly fallen for a scam Facebook page, a nefarious type of Facebook contest scam.

A Real Example of a Facebook Contest Scam:

Juanita Molinar is a Property Brothers fan, so she followed the show's page on Facebook.

She was thrilled and surprised when one of the show's stars, Drew Scott, started to send her messages. He asked her some questions, then told her she'd won $25,000 from the Dream it, Win it, Live it Sweepstakes: a real HGTV giveaway.

Juanita Molinar was thrilled, but soon noticed some of the warning signs of sweepstakes scams. Most telling was that "Drew Scott" was asking her to make a purchase before receiving her prize. Legitimate sweepstakes prizes never come with a catch. You never need to pay to receive a real prize!

Molinar wasn't the only person who reported this Sweepstakes scam. Renee Carr had a very similar experience, and luckily also realized she was being scammed. You can read the Property Brothers' official statement about the scam on Facebook.

Scammers use fake pages to back up Facebook contest scams that steal money and information that can be used for ID theft. So what are they, and how can you avoid being fooled by Facebook pages that look all too legit?

What Are Fake Facebook Page Scams?

The idea behind fake Facebook pages is simple: a con man creates a page on Facebook that sounds like it belongs to someone you'd trust: a big company like Publishers Clearing House, a famous person like a PCH Prize Patrol member, or a well-known HGTV star, for example.

These pages look legitimate, trustworthy. Scammers steal logos and other graphics to make the page look like it belongs to the person or company they are imitating. They build up their followers by placing Facebook ads, having fake accounts like their pages, and other tricks.

After building up trust, they contact followers to tell them they've won a prize. Who wouldn't be tempted to give up personal information or money to get that big prize they've been dreaming of?

How to Avoid Fake Facebook Page Scams:

So now that you know how they work, how can you protect yourself from scam Facebook pages? Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Know the Signs of Sweepstakes Scams
    If you're used to watching out for sweepstakes fraud, then Facebook contest scams will have warning signs that you're already familiar with. Terrible grammar and spelling that you would never expect on a professional site? Asking for money or for other personal information? Stay clear!
  2. Check if the Page is Verified
    Facebook has started verifying the identities of certain pages that are likely to be faked. Pages that Facebook has verified, like the White House's Facebook page, have a blue check mark next to their name on their profiles. You can be confident that verified pages are legitimate.

    Note, however, that not being verified does not mean that the page is not legitimate. Currently, companies cannot request that Facebook verify their pages. The legitimate pages of many large and legitimate websites have not been verified.
  1. Use the Company's Website to Find Legitimate Facebook Pages
    If you want to find the legitimate Facebook page of your favorite companies, start with their websites rather than a Facebook search. If you follow a link from the company's site, you can be confident that they endorse that page.
  2. Be Wary of Friend Requests from Celebrities
    It might be flattering to think that your favorite television and movie stars are trying to be your Facebook friends. But remember, there are millions of people on Facebook. If you don't have a personal relationship with a celebrity, it's unlikely that they're reaching out to you.

    PCH repeatedly reminds the public that they do not send friend requests: "Fact: No member of the Prize Patrol will send you a friend request on Facebook". And they only have one official page, their Prize Patrol members no longer have individual pages, to make imitating them harder for scammers.
  1. Look for Signs Something Is Off
    If something seems weird or off about the page, it's a good idea to simply stop following it. Was it only recently founded? Have few, if any, posts been made? Is the spelling and grammar wrong? Does it have a low number of followers for a popular person or company? Do the posts seem to fit the goals and the reputation of the company posting them?

By following these tips, you can avoid the risks and disappointment of falling for a Facebook contest scam.