US President Joe Biden signs an executive order on securing critical supply chains, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on February 24, 2021 ( AFP / Saul Loeb)

Misleading ads on Facebook employ common scam tactic

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Facebook ads featuring clips of President Joe Biden and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claim to offer hundreds of dollars to US drivers in exchange for their zip code. But the footage used in the ads is unrelated to such an offer, inaccurately tying it to the government, and the National Consumers League warns individuals against interacting with suspicious offers on social media.

"This was highlighted on the news yesterday," says a December 30, 2021 Facebook ad. "My close friend sent a text to me this morning and told me about the news for drivers. All I did was enter my zip to confirm my driving details and now I am getting $725. It only took 70 seconds! Just Enter Zip."

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on January 10, 2022

AFP found multiple iterations of the ad being run by the same Facebook page, "Citizen Save Trust," all posted on the same date. 

The ads includes a short clip of Psaki saying: "People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their back accounts as early as this weekend. This is, of course, just the first wave." Below it, another shows Biden signing a document.

But keyword searches through the White House archives and AFP's production confirmed that the clips are in no way linked to any recent governmental program offering money to US drivers, contrary to what the posts suggest.  

The video of Psaki is taken from a March 11, 2021 press briefing. She was referring to the stimulus checks that were part of the coronavirus relief bill signed by the president that month. The full video can be found here, and the transcript of the press briefing can be found here.

The clip of Biden can be found here, taken on February 24, 2021, when he signed an executive order on US supply chains. 

An examination of Facebook's page transparency disclosure shows that the Citizen's Save Trust page changed its name in November 2021, prior to spending tens of thousands of dollars on the ads.

John Breyault, vice president of public policy at the National Consumers League, warned consumers against interacting with such pages.

He said it is very easy for scammers to create them and cautioned that asking for a person's zip code is a common tactic used to start a dialog with potential victims. They may also collect additional personal information from an individual's social media profiles.

The website associated with the page also claims to share "tips to save money," but Breyault pointed out that its terms and conditions mentions marketing purposes, "which is not unusual." Information shared with the website may later be sold to other people who will use it to commit fraud, he said. 

"The advice to consumers is simply: ignore the posts... Don't reply to it, don't click 'like,' don't comment on it, don't share it with your friends," Breyault said. "All you are doing is helping further circulate that message" by doing so.

Contacted about the posts, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration referred AFP to the Federal Trade Commission, which did not respond by the time of publication.

AFP previously fact-checked similar posts that claimed to offer cash to people who had not driven under the influence in the last three years, and has debunked various scams and hoaxes offering money or giveaways on Facebook.