3 Facebook scams spreading like wildfire

What online site lets crooks, hucksters and scammers reach potentially more than a billion people with a single post? You guessed it, Facebook. Right now, three specific Facebook scams are rampant, and if my News Feed is any indication, normally “smart” people are falling for them. Don’t be one of those people.

1. "Secret sisters" holiday gift scam

Here's a fantastic deal: Buy a $10 holiday gift and send it to one person. In return, you'll get up to 36 gifts back. Who wouldn't want to get 36 gifts, especially if they're these must-have tech gifts?

This generous offer comes courtesy of something called the "secret sisters gift exchange." There's a similar post going around focused on a book exchange for kids, but the basic premise is the same.

The instructions clearly detail a classic two-deep pyramid scheme. You begin by sending a gift to the first secret sister, then you move the second secret sister to the first position, send the instructions to six other ladies, and on and on. At the end, you’re promised gifts in about two weeks. Well, how lucky are you!

Stop right there. With each level, you need more people to keep it going. By the time you hit the 11th level, the entire population of the United States has to participate to make it work. Even at the fourth or fifth level, the odds of getting even one gift back after you send one are very slim.

Then, there's the fact that pyramid schemes are illegal and might get you fined or imprisoned. The federal government and many states have laws against these kinds of schemes.

How to avoid this scam:

  • Keep in mind that anyone offering a huge return on any investment is probably trying to fool you.
  • Remember that you don’t get something for nothing. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

2. Lottery scam

If you get a message from a Facebook friend saying you’ve won a $30,000 lottery on Facebook, watch out. That's exactly what happened to a woman in Nevada, and to plenty of other people around the country.

In the Nevada case, someone on Facebook named Theresa Paddock contacted the woman to tell her she won the lottery. But to get her money she'd have to wire $150 to cover "insurance" and other fees. She did, but she didn't get her “winnings.” Instead, an unknown man started reaching out to her, trying to get more money.

The same scam happened to a woman in Indiana. In that case, she wired $850 and then was asked to wire more to get an even bigger prize. Of course, hackers had taken over her friend's Facebook page and were using their relationship to trick her. In both cases, the victims aren't going to see their money again.

How to avoid this scam:

1.    If a friend tells you he won something and you can too, call or email him and make sure you're actually talking to him.

2.    Don't send money to someone with the promise of getting money or a prize back. It's called an "advanced fee" scam, and it never ends well.

3.    Never wire money to anyone, whether it's through Western Union, MoneyGram or another service. Once you wire money, it's gone forever.

4.    Watch out for other versions of the lottery scam targeting Powerball and Mega Millions players, like this one.

3. Airline ticket scam

If you're in the mood for travel, you might be tempted with the news that British Airways is giving away free flights for a year. You just have to share the photo, like the Facebook page and comment to win. It's even coming from the "British Air" Facebook page, so it must be legitimate, right?

Nope. It's a scam. And sadly, it’s a common one, often using Delta. The two latest "Delta" scams tricked 65,000 and 22,000 people respectively. “Virgin Airlines” was also offering free tickets for a year if you liked its page. "Qantas" had a similar thing happen back in March. That scam got 100,000 people to share it.

How to avoid this scam:

1.    Your first clue that this isn't a legitimate offer is that British Airways' real name is exactly that: "British Airways." If you see "British Air," "British Airway" or some other variation on Facebook, you're looking at a fake.

2.    The real airline page will have a blue checkmark next to the name indicating it's a verified profile. You can see an example over at my Facebook page. Hover your mouse over the checkmark and it should pop up a little box that says "Verified Page." If it doesn't, then it's part of the background image and you're on a fake page.

3.    Very few companies run contests only on Facebook. If a company posts about a contest, you usually need to click a link to visit a contest sign-up page, like my annual Great Giveaway, where I'm giving away trips, tablets, gift cards and more.

4.    Even if a Facebook post links to a standalone contest page, you should still check that it's really a contest from that company. Look for it on the company's home page. It could be just a more elaborate scam designed to get your information.

Bonus: Another ticket scam

The scam above isn't the only airline ticket scam. Occasionally people will post on Facebook groups that they have a voucher for an airline that they can't use before it expires, and it's your lucky day – because they're willing to sell it to you for half price!

Of course, if you send that person money (often requested as a wire transfer), you'll never get the voucher. For real ways to save on air travel, or any other kind of travel, check out Komando.com's travel tips that cover flying, hotel booking and even cruises.

Facebook is a popular spot for scammers, but there's actually a type of scam that's much more popular. Find out what the No. 1 scam in America is and how you can avoid it.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.