Mea culpa: A glimpse, a click and I help promote the Southwest Airlines Facebook scam

I’m so ashamed. Not pee-in-my-pants-in-the-second-grade ashamed, but, still, ashamed.

I, of all people, should’ve known better.

Long story short: Some company constructed a Facebook promotion that looks like a ticket giveaway by Southwest Airlines. In reality, it’s designed to get you to divulge your contact information so it can be passed along to third-party marketing companies. 

It started when I glimpsed the status updates of Facebook friends that made it seem like they had just gobbled up free tickets from SWA, and that I could get my own tickets, too—if I hurried. 99.99% of the time I ignore that kind of stuff, but when I saw the post from several friends whom I consider to be pretty tech-scam-savvy, I bit. The fact that Southwest Airlines has been known to pull an outrageous sales promotion now and again also influenced me, just as the scammers hoped it would. 

Clicking the link in the status update took me to a page that looked very much like an official Southwest Airlines page. To proceed, I was to type “I love Southwest.” When I clicked enter, that would get posted to my Facebook page and then I would presumably fill out a form to get my free tickets. Right.

Really what this action did was leverage my credibility to get more suckers in the gullibility funnel, just as my friends’ credibility had been leveraged to get me to click. Maybe someone saw the post in my Facebook feed and said, “That asswipe is one of the most skeptical people I know—if he thinks it’s OK…” I hope not. If so, I’m really sorry.

At any rate, the next page looked completely different, asked for all kinds of contact information, including phone number, and had all kinds of legal cover language that made it clear it was simply an information harvesting scheme. I backed out of it at that point, abashed that I’d been taken for a schnook.  

But I had already vouched for the scam on my Facebook page, and God only knows whether I compromised my information in some other unseen way. 

This morning I googled “southwest airlines facebook scam” and saw that this crap has gone around before, of course. Are there ever any Southwest tickets, for anyone? Maybe, but I doubt it. Somewhere on that first splash page, the one that looked like a real SWA promo, there was probably some CYA legal mumbo-jumbo that said, in so many words, “we can’t get sued for lying about giving you free tickets, so move along, sucker.”

If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that Facebook exists to exploit the information we voluntarily provide about ourselves while using it. That is its legitimate mission, how it makes money. It’s no wonder scoundrels find cover in such an ethically agnostic environment. 

Like the man sang, “If you want to dance to the music, you gotta pay to the piper.”