Why Facebook is Losing the Plot: My Poor Experience Reporting a Scam

The other week, a friend of mine friended me on Facebook. It happens millions of times a day, and like most people, I thought nothing of it.

Over the weekend, I thought I’d check out my friend’s new page and found that I actually had two friends of the exact same (unusual) name. One friend had been with me on Facebook for years. The other name was obviously a brand new profile with very little information on it, except the exact same profile photo.

My suspicions about the new profile grew when he started a Facebook chat with me. The old profile never chatted with me on Facebook, but the new one wanted to strike up a conversation, so I obliged. After a few pleasantries, he wrote, “ Oh! have you had about the good news going on facebook?”

“No, what’s that?”

“ Do you know Mark Zuckerberg facebook founder and the federal government is giving out $50K did you get yours yet?,” replied my “friend.”

“Wow, that’s great, tell me more,” I asked.

“I just received mine. I saw your profile name on the lucky winner lists when my winning was delivered. Will you contact the Agent in charge now to claim yours, Do you know how to do that?”

He then provided a link to a since-removed page that was begun on July 28, 2016 to AGENT Colinz-Adam-in-charge-of-your-winning-bonus-and-granted-money. The only information on that page was the image of an older, smiling white gentleman who looked like he definitely wanted to share Zuckerberg’s money with you.

“Click on the link and message them that a friend told you about this an you want to check if your name is still on the winners list”

So being a good and curious researcher, I went over to AGENT Colinz Adam’s page and struck up a Facebook chat with this guy who was just dying to hand over my lottery winnings. He was online constantly and responded to chats within minutes (which Facebook helpfully informed me).

After going through some preliminaries and confirming that the fake name I gave him was on the winner’s list, he provided the expected winning scam amounts,

“Charges & Winning Price:
You pay $500 & get $50,000.00
You pay $1,000 & get $90,000,00.
You pay $1,500 & get $150,000,00. 
You pay $2,000 & get $200,000,00.
You pay $2,500 & get $250,000,00. 
You pay $3,000 & get $300,000,00. 
You pay $3,500 & get $350,000.00. 
You pay $4,000 & get $400,000.00.
You pay $4,500 & get $450,000,00. 
You pay $5,000 & get $500,000,00.”

After I asked why I had to pay a charge to receive my winnings, the kind Agent explained, “ We can’t touch your winning money Mr John, the money is for case file and shipping, so we can process your winnings and you get the money 6 hours after making the payment”

How kind of him!

As soon as I confirmed this was a scam, I reported the page through two different mechanisms to Facebook. Neither allowed me to enter in any free-form text to explain what was going on and why it was against Facebook’s community standards (illegal activity). I sat back and waited.

Also, frustrated by the limited reporting options available and seeing that this page had been online for nearly a month potentially scamming more vulnerable people than I, I decided to write a status update explaining my frustration with the experience. Of course, to illustrate the scammy nature of the page, I linked to it so people could see what I was talking about.

Where’s the Support Inbox?

First thing you’ll have trouble finding is the Support Inbox, where Facebook carries on its official discussions with you. I dare you — without using Google — to find it. It’s not in your messages.

Type it into Facebook’s search box and hit enter. You won’t find it. (If you type it in without hitting enter, you’ll see it listed under the search results, but that’s an odd user experience nonetheless.) The usual way I get to it is through Google.

Twenty-four hours later, I received my first response to my first report. It said that nothing violated their community standards and the report was closed. End of story.

The first problem is that while a user is allowed to open a support case with Facebook, Facebook decides when the case is closed. And once it’s closed, there’s no apparent way to re-open it, or ask for a further explanation.

All you can do is rate your support experience where — finally! — Facebook gives you a free-form text box. That’s where I wrote in and could finally explain the nature of this scam and why they have to start a conversation with the page owner in order to discover it.

After another 24 hours, the second report verified that the page was indeed a scam, and the page has been removed. (Facebook also updated the first report I had made, completely changing the history of it to now show that it too found a violation of community standards. The old finding that it hadn’t violated the standards was removed.)

Why Does it Take So Long for Facebook to Act?

Scammy material of this nature shouldn’t even have to wait for user reports. How often are pages setup with the name of an “Agent” who is in charge of your “winning bonus and granted money” that are legitimate? It seems simple enough for an algorithm to do the hard work of identifying potentially scammy pages, letting a team of human editors review them.

And this page, which had zero information on it but had a person sitting behind it replying to chats all day long within a minute or two of starting one, is clearly crying out, “Scam!”

Nonetheless, this page sat on Facebook for nearly a month. Who knows how many thousands of dollars these guys — likely the same sort who send out the Nigerian spam emails — raked in from naive, unsuspecting people? (If you believe there aren’t any such people who still fall for these scams, you’d be surprised. Scammers don’t waste time and money setting up these fake profiles if it wasn’t extremely profitable.)

Censorship for Talking About the Page

Then, to add insult to injury, my account was censored for talking about the page. My status update I had posted expressing frustration with Facebook’s reporting mechanism was completely removed from my timeline, my history, and comments. It was if I had never written it.

I received no notification of its removal, nor explanation as to why.

So again I go to contact Facebook Support regarding the incident.

I dare you to try to contact Facebook Support if you’re not reporting something on the site. Every FAQ and help page will tell you to use the built-in reporting mechanisms and will not offer you an alternative way to report something. After digging around for a half hour, I finally found a form that lets you report something that is no longer accessible to you on Facebook.

Facebook purposely makes it difficult for you to report content this way because it costs them more time (and therefore money) in support resources to actually investigate such a report. With over a billion users, that can get expensive. But that’s there problem, not mine — except they make it mine by wasting my time in trying to report a problem.

I asked Facebook why they deleted my status update without notification to me.

krystal (lower case k) replied with a form response saying, “ We review reports carefully to make sure we take the correct action. We’ll remove something from Facebook if it goes against our Community Standards: (link to community standards)”

I suspect the “Community Standard” I violated — although, again they never explicitly told me — was the same one the Agent Colinz page violated, because I simply linked to the since-removed page.

This is heavy-handed censorship that removes criticism of Facebook, using its own rules as an excuse to do so. A much less extreme action would have been to simply notify me that I can’t link to illegal material in a Facebook status update and ask me to remove the link (even though now the link went nowhere, so it was, in fact, not linking to any illicit material).

Facebook’s inability to carry out industry-standard, simple support interactions with its users (and customers) is symptomatic of the way Facebook thinks of them — as an afterthought. To Facebook, we’re just data, not people. And data don’t need thoughtful engagement through a support system. “We’ll tell you when an issue is resolved to our satisfaction,” says Facebook, “and you’ll like it that way, because you have no other choice.”

So beware: if you try and do a good deed to help Facebook in its never-ending battle with spammers and scammers, you’ll walk away from the experience feeling like the effort you spent on it was clearly not worth it. I know that I won’t ever bother reporting anything again to Facebook.