A lot of Facebook Pages run competitions. Some of them are legitimate giveaways, while others are total scams designed to collect your personal information.

There’s also a grey area where legitimate Pages run competitions on Facebook in a way they shouldn’t. While there’s no one smoking gun you can look for to spot a fake competition, there are a few things you can look for that might mean something shady is going on. Let’s break it all down.

The Prize Is Too Good to Be True

One of the biggest hints that a competition is a scam is the quality of the prize and what you have to do to win it. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ford is almost certainly not going to giveaway a brand new Mustang using Facebook. Nor is the budget airline EasyJet going to give everyone £500 vouchers to celebrate their anniversary; they’d be out of business in a year.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t competitions where you can win a Mustang or a £500 flight voucher, it’s just that those are big prizes. There will be a lot more to the competition than taking a quick survey that gives away your personal information.

Dodgy URLs or Pages

Take a close look at the URL and Page that claims to be giving something away. Often, they are a very good way to get an idea as to whether or not a competition is legitimate.

Take, for example, the URL of the EasyJet “competition” my friend shared in the screenshot above. It’s “easyjet.com-air.win”. While it does include “easyjet.com”, it’s followed by “-air.win”. This means the actual website domain is “com-air.win”; the “easyjet” bit is a sub-domain like “www”. If I wanted to, I could set up “easyjet.harryguinness.com” in the same way.

I’ve also seen a similar thing with Facebook Pages, where the Page name is the same as the official one, but it’s followed by a period. For example, if “Ford USA” is the official Facebook Page, scammers will set up “Ford USA.” and run a competition from it.

Any of this sort of URL or Page name weirdness should raise serious red flags.

No Official Announcement on the Home Page

Here’s another good test: check the official website of the company that the competition claims to be from. When I visit the EasyJet website, the first thing I see is a massive banner announcing a 20% off sale. While it’s not proof, the fact they display promotions so prominently is definitely a hint that the competition isn’t legitimate. If EasyJet really were giving away thousands of pounds worth of vouchers, they’d almost certainly be making a big deal out of it.

You Have to Share or Tag Friends to Enter

Facebook has pretty strict guidelines over what kind of competitions Pages are allowed run. From the Pages terms and conditions:

Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions (e.g. “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend’s Timeline to get additional entries” and “tag your friends in this post to enter” are not permitted).

This means that the really common competitions where you need to Share a post or Tag three Friends to enter are actually against Facebook’s Terms of Service for Pages. Given how common this kind of competition is though, it’s clear many Pages just ignore Facebook’s stance.

While many legitimate Pages, like the Dublin gym in the screenshot above, run competitions like this, the fact they’re ignoring Facebook’s rules is a bit of a red flag. If they’re prepared to cut corners with how they’re running the competition, they’re probably prepared to cut corners elsewhere. Facebook could also just shut them down at any time.

Too Many Competitions and No Proof Prizes Were Given Away

Most small businesses can’t afford to give away 10 iPads. If a small local business or new startup is running competitions every week with large prizes (iPhones and iPads are always popular), then they either have very deep pockets or there’s something fishy going on.

Similarly, if a Page is running a lot of competitions and never announcing the winner or sharing a photo of them with the prize being given, it’s another red flag. While Pages don’t have to publicly announce the winner in most places unless the prize is over a certain value, it’s good publicity for them to do it. And publicity is the reason most Pages run Facebook competitions in the first place.

Both these red flags appeared with the launch of (the now dead) Pretty.ie. In the space of a year, the Facebook Page ran 22 competitions and racked up almost 100,000 likes. The Dublin InQuirer thought something was off, so they tried to track down the winners. They couldn’t find any. They attempted to contact the Page’s owner so that they could be put in contact with a prize winner but their phone calls were never responded to. Instead, a few days later all the competition posts were removed and the Page was down to 32 likes. Sounds suspicious, doesn’t it?

What a Legitimate Competition Looks Like

The biggest thing that legitimate competitions have going for them is…well, the opposite of all the above. Check out this promotion for Amazon’s The Grand Tour. The competition is being shared by a legitimate Page associated with the show. It’s linking to Amazon’s website. The prize is totally reasonable: a studio visit for a recording. There’s even a T&Cs disclaimer! There’s literally nothing about this competition post that suggests it’s not what it appears to be.

Facebook takes a hands off view of competitions. While they know people will run them on their platform, they want nothing to do with it. The guidelines make it very clear that they accept no responsibility for competitions run by Pages and they won’t police them, instead, it’s up to the Page to make sure their competition is above board. While this makes it easy for legitimate Pages to run competitions without jumping through too many hoops, it does also leave the door open for scammers.

The best advice I can give is trust your gut. If a competition is giving off more than one or two red flags, maybe don’t enter it. And whatever you do, never provide your Facebook login details to or pay anyone who claims you’ve won a competition they’re running.

Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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