An investigation by The Washington Post has uncovered a dozen accounts, pages, and groups across Facebook and Instagram which misleadingly claim to be official hubs for Libra, Facebook’s proposed digital currency. In some cases these pages, which were only removed after WaPo reported them to Facebook, offered to sell Libra at a discount through third-party websites.
Given the proliferation of cryptocurrency scams seen in recent years, it’s not surprising that scammers have descended on Libra given its widespread attention. However, it’s far more surprising that Facebook doesn’t seem to have been prepared for the influx of tricksters on its own service, especially as it struggles to assure regulators that it’s equipped to handle a global currency.
Or, as Cornell University economics professor Eswar Prasad put it in a comment to The Washington Post, “There is a deep irony here in Facebook being used as the platform that could undermine trust in the currency Facebook is trying to build trust in.”
Many of the fake pages identified by The Washington Post use Facebook’s logo, Libra’s official marketing imagery, or photos of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. One page linked out to a site called BuyLibraCoins.com, which is slickly designed and includes links to buy what it claims are Libra tokens. Other pages seemed to have been made to reserve key Libra brand names for later use.
The fake pages have appeared as Facebook is facing intense scrutiny over its cryptocurrency plans. Last week Facebook cryptocurrency chief David Marcus appeared in front of an occasionally hostile committee to answer questions about Libra. “I don’t think you should launch Libra at all,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) told the executive in one exchange.
This is not the first time Facebook has suffered an influx of crypto-related scams, but this time it has far more to lose from their proliferation. It recently agreed to a £3 million ($3.7 million) settlement in a case with Martin Lewis, founder of UK personal finance website MoneySavingExpert, after cryptocurrency ads bearing his face appeared on the social media platform. It has also seen the proliferation of fake accounts attempting to promote sales of cryptocurrencies.
Facebook doesn’t allow cryptocurrency ads from advisers that aren’t pre-approved. It recently loosened restrictions to allow more general ads related to blockchain technology or industry news.
Facebook is not the only platform that has been hit with cryptocurrency scams related to Libra, but it’s definitely got the most to lose from them. The Washington Post reports that scam pages have also cropped up on Twitter and YouTube, and last month The Next Web reported on a scam site that had registered the Calìbra.com (note the special character) domain. The site was set up to look identical to the official Calibra.com website, but was being used to advertise a “pre-sale” of Facebook’s currency. As of today, the site appears to have been taken down.
In response to The Washington Post’s investigation, a spokesperson from Facebook said, “Facebook removes ads and pages that violate our policies when we become aware of them, and we are constantly working to improve detection of scams on our platforms.”