Two Firms Fined $721K For Facebook Scam Involving U.K. Grocery Chains Tesco, Asda

By David Cohen 

Facebook crime does not pay, as a 2011 scam that promised users of the social network free vouchers and gift cards for U.K. grocery chains Tesco and Asda wound up costing mBill of Australia and Amazecell of Israel a total of £450,000 ($721,000).

Sophos’ Naked Security blog reported that PhonepayPlus, the U.K. regulator of premium-rate phone-paid services, found mBill and Amazecell guilty of running deliberately misleading promotions on Facebook, fining the offending firms £150,000 ($240,000) and £300,000 ($481,000), respectively, and ordering them to issue refunds to any affected users of the social network who request them.

The two firms used supposed free vouchers and gift cards of up to £250 ($400) for the two U.K. grocery chains as bait, enticing Facebook users to sign up for expensive, premium-rate phone services. Messages were shared to users’ Facebook walls without their permission, or victims were told that they had to share the posts in order to receive the vouchers or gift cards.

According to Naked Security, the scam became so widespread that Tesco posted a warning on its Facebook wall, saying:

WARNING: Any adverts, websites or Facebook pages offering “first 100,000 attendants get a free £250 Tesco voucher” are a scam and nothing to do with Tesco. For everyone’s online safety we ask you not to follow any links.

PhonepayPlus said in its ruling, as reported by Naked Security:

After clicking on the promotion, consumers were misled into participating in premium-rate competitions. Consumers believed that these were stages toward receiving the promoted offer and did not realize that by entering their phone number, they would be charged.

In the Amazecell case, consumers were charged £5 ($8) per question sent to their phone. Consumers were subsequently charged for further questions regardless of whether or not they answered them. Over 89,000 consumers entered the service only once but were sent a second question for which they were charged.

Readers: Have you ever been a target or victim of a similar Facebook scam?

Scam keyboard image courtesy of Shutterstock. Tesco and Asda scam images courtesy of Naked Security.