If something seems too good to be true online, it usually is.
Recognizing Reliable Products on Social Media
With so much of our interactions occurring online these days, it’s important to be diligent about safety. Not every social media profile out there is real, and not every product is legitimate. But how can you spot a fake, and what should you do if you fall for a scam?
Don’t Get Reeled In
Catfishing doesn’t just happen on dating sites anymore. An entire business can be faked in order to sell non-existent products to online consumers. It’s important to be able to recognize not just when people are real on the internet, but when products are reliable as well.
Catch a Catfish
Let’s say you’ve “met” someone online and you’ve clicked with them. Before you get emotionally invested in a friendship or a relationship, look for signs that the person is really who they say they are.
SIGNS OF CATFISHING
- You never meet face-to-face
- The person avoids video calls (or even phone calls)
- Photos are recycled on social media profiles
You not only have to look out for individuals who may be catfishing you, but businesses as well. Whether it’s eBay, Etsy, or an Instagram account, there are fakes out there trying to sell products that don’t exist.
SIGNS A BUSINESS IS CATFISHING YOU
- They don’t have contact information on their website
- There’s no “About Us” section that lists real founders or employees
- They don’t have any social media accounts (just a website)
How to Vet An Online Profile or Brand
There are reports that over 50% of all Facebook profiles are actually fake. Other studies indicate that Facebook only deleted 1.7 billion fake accounts in the latter half of 2021, which is closer to 16% of profiles. According to the New York Times, some of these fake accounts are generated by software programs and are just bots. This means that they may not actively be trying o scam anyone; they’re just promoting content so it’s viewed by more users on the platform.
This is still a problem though, as it can lead to mass misinformation online. So, how can you vet an online profile or brand to ensure it’s reliable?
HOW TO SPOT A BOT ACCOUNT
- The username contains a string of numbers
- The account is brand new but has a huge following
- Following is homogenous, lacking in diversity
- Doesn’t follow many other users on the platform
- Lack of any personal information in the account profile
- Excessive use of hashtags or emojis
- Lack of personal photos (they all look like headshots)
- Sporadically posts off-brand content
- Never links to reliable sources
- High content production daily
- Mostly reshares content without generating anything new
No single indicator can help you determine if an account is a bot and not a person; instead, look for a mix of signs that the account could be fake. If you think it’s possible an account is spammy, do some digging.
- Reverse-image-search profile photo or content to see if it’s been lifted from other sites
- Check where the account sources its info – if it’s exclusively from “.ly” links, it could be a bot
- See what other accounts the profile is connected to; do they all behave similarly?
- Look at the account history to see if it was recently created, or if it had long periods of dormancy before becoming active again
A real person online, such as an influencer who’s promoting products, will have a variety of content that is all on-brand. They’ll have contact information in their bio so they can better network and make connections with consumers and businesses. If an influencer is selling something legit, they might be using a third party like Pyvit that provides direct, shoppable links to reputable brands.
Reporting Fake Profiles
If you suspect a profile is a fake, report it to the social media platform. Unfollow and block the profile if you want to avoid seeing them on your feed again.
HOW TO SPOT A BRAND SCAM
- You can’t find any other sites that link to the brand or its product
- Their social media page history shows multiple name changes over time
- Content is being posted inconsistently
- Posts are geotagged from all over the world
- Profile or account images appear to be stock images only, nothing candid
- The products or services are suspiciously under-priced compared to competitors
- There are only positive reviews online if any at all
If you want to be sure you’re purchasing from an established brand with reliable products, Google is one of your best tools. When you plug a brand into the search engine, you can check when the business’s website was first indexed. If it was recent, yet the brand claims an exorbitant amount of sales and boasts hundreds of reviews, it may be a scam.
Use Google Maps to see where a company is located; you may have to search for a mailing address, an address for returns, or a physical location address on a website. If a company is legit, that information shouldn’t be too hard to find. If you can’t locate a building on Google street view, or if it looks like a sketchy, unmarked building, it may not be a reliable business.
You may need to be more discerning of reviews. Instead of just registering that a brand or product has thousands of four- or five-star reviews, take a closer look. When were these reviews published? Do they all sound the same? Are there photos from customers to verify the purchase? Do the “before and after” testimonials look and sound too good to be true?
Let’s say you’re interested in online services from a wellness brand like Total Health and Fitness. You may be nervous about scheduling online-only consultations because you don’t know for sure if the nutritionists and trainers are reputable. Total Health and Fitness combats these worries by offering face-to-face video chats on a weekly basis. They also further validify their services by plainly listing their contact info, and sharing information about each team member on their website. In addition to offering online services, Total Health and Fitness also offers in-person consultations for nutrition and exercise services, assuring clients that they do, in fact, exist off the Internet.
Another company that does a good job of proving it’s not catfishing clients is Lawn Gevity. Their website states how long they’ve been in business, and they’re so confident in their products that they offer a Do It Yourself Program for Utah gardeners. Their physical location is listed in multiple places on their website, as is their contact info and guarantee/refund policy. Lawn Gevity offers an amount of transparency that makes it easy to verify its services.
When in doubt, you can always go the old-fashioned route and ask friends and family for recommendations when it comes to the products and services you need. But, there is a world of opportunity available online, and if you're willing to perform due diligence, it can be beneficial.