Media Mindfulness Blog

How to spot a scam on social media

How to spot a scam on social media

Advertisers use creative techniques to get our attention and pique our interest so that we grab onto their product. Today it is more important than ever to be media mindful because not all the ads we come across are from legitimate companies. So, how do we know when a product or service is genuine or when it is a scam? By applying media literacy skills to the advertisement.


The skills of media literacy empower us to ask questions so as to seek to identify different types of media and the messages they are sending. To learn more about media literacy, check out Sr. Hosea’s article here. There’s even an online course if you want to go deeper. You can check out the course here.


The tools of our digital age make media creation easy for anyone. What doesn’t always happen is thinking critically, asking questions like: who created this? why did they make it? and whether or not it's credible. Being able to ask these kinds of questions of the media is essential in our digital age. Also important is to have the attentiveness to recognize typical scams, such as subscription traps, and to distinguish marketing from other social media and online content.


Recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook wall and noticed an ad that piqued my interested. It said, “Weight Loss Pill That Naturally Burns Fat Gets Biggest Deal In Shark Tank History.” “Shark Tank” is a reality TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their product/service to five sharks (self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons) for the purpose of getting an investment and their expertise in growing the entrepreneur’s business. I clicked on the link to “learn more” and was taken to a website that offered information that seemed legitimate. It said top news outlets, like New York Times and “Today” promote the product. The offer was “risk free,” only pay $4.95 for shipping and you have a free month supply to try. This offer was very tempting but I managed to resist.


During the week I continued to see what seemed to be the same ad appear on my Facebook wall but I noticed the name of the product was different each time. A warning bell went off in my mind and I put my media literacy cap on and looked more critically at the information to find out if this was a genuine product or a scam.


What I noticed is each site, though different, seems to say the same thing except when you get to the actual name of the product, they are each different.  So what is the real product that was on “Shark Tank?” Was it Turmeric Diet Forskolin, Live Active Garcinia, Safflower Oil, or Nutritious Health Garcinia?


I tried to locate the episode on “Shark Tank” but was unsuccessful. What I did find was the two women, Samantha and Anna, who were on the show but not for a weight loss pill; rather their names are Shelly Hyde and Kara Haught. The product they were pitching was a swimsuit line for moms.

Here is the link to the actual “Shark Tank” episode:


Then I searched on the website that alerts the public to online scams, fraud, and other internet threats. There are three articles that explain how the scammers use pressure-selling to scam people to click and buy.


Today we have almost instantaneous access to more information than at any other point in human history. In fact, the amount of information available to us doubles every two years, which has led some to believe that we’ll eventually be able to read minds and shape our environment at will. But how can we make smarter decisions and not easily be caught to believe a scam?


Steps to protect yourself against potential scams:

  1. Become a smart consumer of products and information- Learn how to determine whether something is credible. Notice "persuasive intent" of advertising and resist the techniques marketers and scammers use to sell products.
  2. If you are a victim of any kind of fraud, it is important to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at
  3. Social networking sites are a breeding ground for identity thieves and scammers. You should never accept a request to be friends from someone you don’t know and you should also be careful and selective about what type of information you post and share online.
  4. To determine if an online offer or request is legitimate go to
  5. Stay a step ahead with the latest info and practical tips from the nation’s consumer protection agency. Browse FTC scam alerts by topic or by most recent.


Being cautious online will always pay off. Almost all online scams and frauds can be avoided by following the principle that “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” This applies to any sweepstake, request for personal information or underpriced online merchandise.




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