Facebook 'farming' scam preys on sympathy to garner 'likes,' money

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- A photo is worth a thousand words. And on Facebook, it can be worth a million likes.

When a seemingly caring stranger posted a picture of a baby who looked to have bruising over his chest and promised a prayer for each like, more than 141,000 people responded.

Jenna Buswell's response?

"Instantly my heart sank," the Puyallup, Wash. mother said.

The baby in the photo is Jenna's son Casen. He has a rare genetic condition that causes visible lesions at the surface of his skin.

It turns out there's no caring stranger. Casen's photo has been stolen and posted multiple times with a made up story about an accident.

Another Facebook page posted it and promised to donate $10 to the family for every like and $15 for each time someone shared the photo.

"You're like, 'Oh that's really sad. I'm going to like that.' And I had done that. I'm guilty of that. Not knowing that these pictures have been stolen. And these pages are making money," Buswell said.

How do they make money? Travis Mayfield is the Social Media Director for the parent company of KATU News and he's seen this scheme before. It's called Facebook Farming.

A page lures you in to click "like" by asking, do you care about kids with cancer? Or premature babies? What about war heroes?

"You feel heartless if you're not hitting 'like'. It's a very easy thing to do and your friends have already done it," Mayfield said. "When they have enough likes they can strip all of those photos away and sell it to whoever wants to buy it. And there's a very robust online marketplace where businesses or even worse, scammers, can go in and buy those pages."

If you already liked the page, you're now accepting anything the new owners want to post in your feed, including advertisements.

One of the biggest farming schemes involved an Eugene, Ore. girl with Down's Syndrome.

The post read, "My sister Mallory doesn't think she's beautiful." A whopping three million likes were supposed to give Mallory a boost.

But that little girl's real name is Katie, and her mother couldn't stop the hoax.

"I started receiving strange contact emails on Facebook," Katie's mom Terri Johnson said. "The first couple times I thought they just got confused because I don't have a daughter named Mallory. After it happened two or three times I finally spent some time researching and finally found it."

Johnson tried to tell people it was a hoax, but her words were drowned out by other posters.

"I have never seen anything so out of control personally in my life," Johnson said. "I couldn't even get a comment in the stream."

Jenna Buswell was the first person to post Casen's picture on Facebook, to keep friends updated on his health and to raise funds. Now she hopes people will realize something as simple as a prayer means more to her than a "like."

"By clicking that button, that doesn't mean you're doing anything to help us," Buswell said. "Stop and think about us. Go out and volunteer. Walk a walk. Show your support in different ways. Think about the family that the picture being used is from and what they're stories may really be. What the truth is."

For More Information:

The real story on Casen Buswell
The real story on Katie