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Dangerous websites and engagement bait: be sceptical of social media posts making unlikely promises of freebies or ‘donations’

IN SHORT: A multitude of Facebook posts offering free houses and free Honda Civic cars are like empty promises we’ve seen before. They’re scams trying to retrieve personal information from the unsuspecting.

Posts doing the rounds on public Facebook groups with large followings claim that 300 houses will be “donated” because they cannot be sold, “due to minor scratches”.

“We are happy to announce that we will be donating 300 houses which cannot be sold due to minor scratches, all houses are in good condition,” the captions reads.

This is already suspicious – houses, unlike smaller consumer goods, can’t really get “scratched”. According to the posts, the houses will be “sent” at random to someone who writes “done” in the comments. This is even stranger – it’s not clear how a house would be “sent” or posted. 

These posts are often deleted after a few days, another suspicious tactic which Africa Check has previously looked into and found to be fraudulent. So what’s going on here?

HouseDonation_Scam

Links take readers to potentially dangerous websites

A typical version of the post gives a link where Facebook users can apply for this “donation” once they’ve written “done” in the comments.

HouseUpload

These link to a number of simple webpages which appear to show listings for “foreclosures homes”. Foreclosure is a process when someone has defaulted on a home loan or mortgage, and the lender, usually a bank, takes ownership of the property and tries to sell it.  

But this is where it gets more ominous: visitors to these sites are invited to click through to “view our listings” or some variety of this, but this takes you through to a page that at least one Microsoft browser deems “unsafe”.

“Microsoft recommends you don’t continue to this site,” the warning read, when Africa Check tried to access the site. “It has been reported to Microsoft for containing misleading content that could lead you to lose personal info, financial data, and even money."

Unsafe

This type of link may be an attempt to steal personal information to use for identity theft

We then tried other links from other similar posts and these redirected us to an error page. Error 404 indicates that the server could not find the page that was requested either because it had been removed or altered or was unavailable.

404

The posts appear to be a classic form of engagement bait, asking people to interact by liking, sharing or commenting. There’s no indication that any real houses for sale or to give away were ever posted.

But they’re not the only posts of their kind.

Engagement bait used for comments, likes and shares

Similar widely shared posts give the same instructions but promise giveaway Honda Civic cars instead of houses.

These posts are also shared to public Facebook groups with many members.

More of these posts can be found here, here and here.

Typical versions of these posts include photos of car dealerships – sometimes for a different brand of car than the Honda Civics promised – and, inexplicably, a photo of US talk-show host and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey and her partner, Stedman Graham.

CarUpload

The posts do not include any details of or links to where readers could claim these donated cars but, as in previous examples, only ask readers to comment “done”. This is, again, a red flag for engagement bait.

Other similar giveaways claim to offer “donations” of Dyson Supersonic hairdryers.

DysonUpload

Access to information or advertising revenue

These types of scams will post about a supposed giveaway that requires very little effort from readers to enter. The posts rack up likes, shares and comments for reach, and are then rapidly deleted.

Scammers cross-post, posting the same claim to many different Facebook pages or groups to gain an even bigger reach.

It’s not entirely clear what the scammers get out of this, but this tactic could be used to gain access to social media users’ personal information or for monetisation and to earn advertising revenue. 

When in doubt, remember the golden rule: if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Be careful of Facebook pages asking you to comment on posts or for personal contact details. Read our guide on Facebook scams and how to spot them.

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