"A penny for your thoughts, a nickel for your kiss, a dime if you tell me you love me," goes a 1980s song but now in the age of social media, your 'Facebook "Like" can translate to a good amount of money for brands or, on the flipside, for online crooks. Social media is a good gauge of sentiments of people. More Likes means more support and for brands or scammers alike, these clicks can eventually translate to money.
Any interesting video or image that appeals to one's emotions is always a guaranteed viral hit on social networks such as Facebook. One Facebook page can ask visitors to Like them or Share them accompanied by words that fish for what people feel.
Take, for instance, the child from Northampton, Pennsylvania who was battling cancer. Her photo was not posted by her parents on Facebook but stolen by the scammers from a forum where it was used to raise awareness about her condition in 2009. The girl was seven years old in the photo, donning her cheerleading outfit, kneeling inside a circle of pompoms. One might ask why her picture was picked but the obvious answer is her bald head that clearly screams that she is ill, going through chemotherapy, needs help, and needs all possible support.
What makes it more fascinating is that the photo is far from being recent. It was six years old and people just unknowingly gave their virtual thumbs up. If there is any good news about this girl, it's that the kid suffering from Stage 4 neuroblastoma, whose photo was abused by the scammers, is now cancer free and studying as an eighth-grader.
"I was first shocked. And then infuriated," said the baffled Amanda Reith, mother of the child in the photo. The family was made aware by a friend who saw the photo on the social media.
Reith shared that using her kid's photo to spread awareness or raise funds to fight cancer is a family decision, which also involved asking the permission and opinion of her kid afflicted then with a life-threatening disease.
"This? This was entirely different and entirely out of our control. That's the most gut-wrenching part: the total lack of control," she added."What makes me truly angry, though, is knowing that they're using it as an insidious way to make money.That's not what her survival is about to us."
The family and their friends reported the misuse of the young girl's image to Facebook and the company responded by deleting the image. However, Reith still sees her daughter's photo popping on some pages once in a while.
Why people click and how scammers benefit
"The average user doesn't know any better. I think their common sense tells them it's not true, but in the back of their minds, they think 'What if it is true? What does it hurt if I press like?' or whatever," explained Facecrooks.com founder Tim Senft, whose website tracks unethical and illegal behavior on the said social network. "It's anything that's going to kind of tug at the heartstrings: the sick kids, the animal abuse, acting like it's some kind of pet shelter.That's the bad part with the scammers. They hit people where they're vulnerable, play on their emotions."
Senft explained that once scammers collect a lot of likes, they can "reset" the page and promote products so they can rake in commission or sell the page to other cybercriminals who also aim to trick people. The more likes, the pricier the page gets in black hat forums. Likewise, these Facebook pages can be used to shoot malware to computer systems that can then be used for phishing, or worse, identity theft.
"Think before you click, because your action will have some consequence on yourself, or other people. Internet security has no ultimate solution, because technology is always evolving," said Ming Li, a computer science professor from Fresno State.