Customers have been advised to be vigilant on social media after fake profiles were created to trick competition entrants.
Two north-east businesses have fallen victim to scammers creating fake Facebook accounts imitating the firms online.
The Vegan Bay Baker in Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire, and Aberdeen cocktail bar Orchid have both had fake profiles emulating their businesses created online after launching competitions on their legitimate pages.
Both firms hosted competitions to win products on Facebook and days later were alerted to fake accounts attempting to contact their customers to announce they were winners.
Steve Buchan, owner of The Vegan Bay Baker, said his business page had been “bombarded” with messages from loyal customers alerting him to the unusual activity. They had received friend requests from a doppelganger Facebook page.
He said: “It was really weird. With Covid-19, we’ve had a bit of a job getting the new bakery in Newburgh open so we’re looking to get it open for click and collect as soon as we can. Off the back of that, we wanted to give something back to our customers so to kick things off we launched a competition to give someone the chance to win £25 worth of products and collect them.
“With everything that is happening right now and strict restrictions in place we had said the winner could use the prize within a year, which meant anyone in the local area could enter.
“All of a sudden we got a huge influx of messages one day. We get lots of messages as it is, but this was a lot at once and it turned out to be our customers alerting us to the fact someone had copied all of the information on our Facebook page and was telling every person they had won the prize.”
With the original competition post receiving 206 likes, 195 comments and was shared 184 times, Steve was concerned lots of people would be fooled by the two fake pages that were targeting his business.
The fake pages were Facebook profiles, rather than a business account which The Vegan Bay Baker uses. They had the same logo, however one was named ‘Vegan’Bay-Baker’ and the other ‘VeganBay Baker’.
He added: “Our main concern was that some people, who may not be as confident on social media, wouldn’t know what was happening and may believe that the profile was ours. We noticed a few people had accepted the friend request and so we messaged them right away alerting them that it was a scam. They did say they had thought it was a little weird and luckily hadn’t clicked on the website links the scammer had sent.
“One of the pages it seems is a lady from Indonesia and the other is from Malaysia. We’re not sure if they are the real profiles of the people behind this or not, but that’s what we have found out as indicated by some of the pictures we found on the pages when we scrolled right down to the first posts. One has changed her picture to being a picture of herself now, rather than our logo, but her profile is still similar to our name.
“On one of the pages they put up a post with a link stating if you entered into the competition then you had to click onto the link that they had posted. But it has been deleted now. The other page has copied our posts from when we put out our Christmas lists.”
Hard to report on Facebook
According to Steve the hardest part about the situation has been addressing the matter with Facebook, which he has had no luck with to date having reported the pages various times and emailing the social media firm.
Many of his customers have also reported the page and experienced the same result.
“I’ve reported both pages four times. Each time I get a message back saying it doesn’t go against their community standards which I find very baffling,” said Steve.
“It is obviously not being looked into at all. If it was, well it is quite clearly a scam page. It seems to be shoved under the carpet and is just a standard message they seem to be sending out to everyone who reports it. I don’t think they do enough to prevent things like this considering the wide amount of people using it. To say it doesn’t go against community standards is just strange.
“My wife Zoe has also sent an email to Facebook to ask what the community standards are, because clearly if this doesn’t go against them it would be good to know what they are.
“We had been aware that this sort of thing was happening as Zoe has been messaged by a fake account before about a competition. It appears to be quite common just now and has happened to a few other people, too.”
And although Steve urges people to stay alert when operating online, he has encouraged people not to be put off by the latest scam as many official and legitimate food and drink businesses operate via profiles rather than pages. His main advice, “be cautious”.
“There are some pages who use Facebook profiles for their business pages rather than a business page, so it is important to just keep that in mind. Most of these pages will be legitimate, but it is just to alert people to be cautious, especially if they are getting friend requests then being asked to click on links.
“I just hope people don’t get further confused by these scams. We are very grateful to everyone who messaged us to alert us so we could try and make sure our customers are informed as soon as possible.”
Commenting on the fake accounts and how they have been handled by the firm, a spokesperson from Facebook said: “There’s no place for fraudulent or inauthentic activity on Facebook and we have removed the accounts brought to our attention.
“We block millions of fake accounts every day through a combination of technology and human review, and we have donated £3 million to Citizens Advice to deliver a UK Scam Action Programme, but we recognise we still have more to do in this area.”
The social media platform also advises that the best way to report any misconduct on the platform is via its reporting tools. More information can be found on the Facebook help page.