Busted! "Verified" Facebook App Caught Scamming Users

Social games industry leader Zynga has gotten a lot of heat for making money indirectly through lead-generation scams. But it’s hardly the only guilty party.

Facebook and app-maker Serious Games must be counted too.

Watch us get scammed →

First, some background.  The lead-gen scam conroversy started a couple of weeks ago, and it focused on companies like Zynga.  Casual games companies like Zynga make money in three ways:

  • They sell some traditional advertising.
  • They sell users virtual goods — game upgrades mostly. 
  • They let sponsors buy virtual goods for users who agree to free offers.

Unfortunately, this last piece of business can sometimes lead to unsavory practices.

While offers in these games usually come from legitimate advertisers like Netflix or Blockbuster, too often less scrupulous companies will offer users a “free” trial and then automatically bill them for a product only mentioned in the very fine print, charging a credit card that was asked for under the pretense of paying for shipping and handling. 

Industry leader Zynga has gotten so much heat over allowing these types of advertisers into its games that that over the weekend, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus shut-down in-game offers in his company’s games entirely.

But Zynga is not the only social games maker benefiting from unsavory lead-generation offer scams. We found several games in the top 40 most popular Facebook applications.

One of these top games, “Friends For Sale,” by Serious Games, is a “Facebook Verified App.”

Facebook guidelines for all apps forbid ads that are “deceptive or fraudulent about any offer made.” But “Facebook Verified Apps” are so-called because the social network says they have “passed a detailed Facebook review to confirm that the user experience they provide complies with Facebook policies.”

Facebook rewards Verified Apps with better placement in its directories. This placement funnels thousands of users into verified apps. By making Friends For Sale a verified app, Facebook is making it easier for Facebook users to get themselves scammed.

Facebook is also starting to make lots of money from social games makers like Friends For Sale buying ads to market their latest games.

Watch us get scammed by “Friends For Sale” and read Facebook’s response →
Photo: waytoocrowded

Step 2: We really want to play this game, so we allow access. We're not worried because Facebook gave it a green stamp of approval!

Step 4: Not thrilled about the idea of paying actual money for virtual goods, we go with one of these free offers.

Step 5: We are 18 or older and could use some auto-insurance! This one looks good...

Step 6: What the heck!? Clicking the Auto Insurance link takes us to a Video Professor offer. Weird! But that wily bald man has us intrigued, and since he says the only cost is shipping and handling, we decide to give it a try.

Step 7: This seems harmless enough -- just the info necessary for them to send us our CDs.

Step 8: Our credit card number? Yes, for the $9.95 fee that they say is the only charge. Since we're getting Facebook tokens AND some neat CD's out of it, we go for it. After all, it's only 10 bucks... or is it?

Responses from Facebook and Serious Games

We asked Facebook about the ad. A company spokesperson told us, 'We have not seen the ad in question. When we find an ad that violates our policies we take appropriate action against the advertiser or developer.'

We contacted Serious Games through its Facebook page and Web site. They have not responded to our request for comment.

We suspect Serious Games knows these kinds of things go on in its games. Why else would Serious Games include this disclaimer on its Web site:

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