Australians are the latest targets in a sophisticated 'fake news' scam circulating on Facebook, luring victims with the promise of implausibly cheap Samsung smartphones.
Australians are the latest targets in a sophisticated 'fake news' scam circulating on Facebook, luring victims with the promise of implausibly cheap Samsung smartphones.

Sick fraudsters target Aussies in Facebook scam

Australians are the latest targets in a sophisticated worldwide scam circulating on Facebook, luring victims with the promise of implausibly cheap Samsung smartphones.

The scammers’ attention to detail is particularly disturbing. Picture: Brett Wortman
The scammers’ attention to detail is particularly disturbing. Picture: Brett Wortman

Swinburne University social media major director Dr Belinda Barnet said the scammers' attention to detail was particularly disturbing and proved digital platforms needed to take urgent action to stamp out the escalating threat to its users.

Although the latest version of the scam mimics an Australian publication, criminals have previously disguised the fraud as legitimate news articles from The Guardian, Yahoo News, Stuff NZ, and the BBC.

News Corp has also seen evidence of the scam operating in the US, New Zealand, Singapore, Norway, Sweden, and France, with the brands exploited by the scam seemingly unable to stop its spread.

The latest version of the scam, which copies the format of a news.com.au article, shows the scammers are ramping up their attempts to trick money from victims.
The latest version of the scam, which copies the format of a news.com.au article, shows the scammers are ramping up their attempts to trick money from victims.

With small changes, the fake news articles typically offer Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphones for $1 to $3, pretending the deal is part of a "marketing strategy" to artificially inflate its popularity over Apple.

"Samsung can regain AU users by giving away extremely low-priced phones to people and converting them to repeat Samsung customers who will spread the word to their friends," the fraudulent article said.

Readers are encouraged to click a link to "claim their offer," which leads to a copied Samsung website that extracts their name, address, phone number, email address and, eventually, their credit card details to pay for the $3 phone.

Victims have instead reported being charged $99 by an unknown company and receiving no smartphone in return.

A French version of the smartphone scam, promoted on Facebook, is mocked up to look like the official Samsung website. Picture: Supplied
A French version of the smartphone scam, promoted on Facebook, is mocked up to look like the official Samsung website. Picture: Supplied

The scam is a disturbing new addition to a long list of hoaxes advertised to Australians on Facebook, which has come under fire for marketing fake articles using celebrities such as Karl Stefanovic, Eddie McGuire, Carrie Bickmore and Deborah Knight to promote everything from Bitcoin scams to non-existent face creams.

But Dr Barnet said the direct copy of news.com.au's format showed scammers were ramping up attempts to trick money from victims.

"These scams are proliferating more and more and Facebook is not doing enough to counter it," she said. "It's obviously concerning that an actual masthead is being used.

"If we regulate and make social media companies responsible for the pieces they promote - even if we didn't regulate organic posts but just the things that make Facebook money - that would solve a lot of problems."

Samsung Australia confirmed it was aware of the "hoax offer" around its smartphones, and warned "customers to be vigilant when considering third-party offers for Samsung products".

A spokesman for Facebook said the social network used automated and human moderators to identify scams advertised on its platform but was unable to "catch every ad" promoting a hoax.

"We do not want ads that include widely debunked misinformation or make misleading and unsubstantiated claims on our platform," he said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Digital Platforms Inquiry found scams spread on digital platforms had grown by 188 per cent over four years, with more than $70,000 lost to scammers in one week alone last year.

"The ACCC is concerned by the increase in this behaviour and the use of digital platforms to facilitate such conduct," the report found.

"This is damaging for businesses that inadvertently display these advertisements, and for consumers who fall victim to these scams and suffer both financial and non-financial loss."

The ACCC recommended the introduction of a digital platforms ombudsman to resolve consumer and business dispute and order compensation - a recommendation the Morrison Government said it would consider only after running a pilot program to address consumers' complaints.



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