The Illustrated Anatomy of a Viral Pinterest Scam

Update: Part II - How The Scammers Hijacked Facebook Likes

It started with a tweet from a friend:

Never one to pass a scam, I dutifully clicked and landed on a page with this URL:

The ticking "packages remaining" counter communicates the sense of urgency.  I am feeling lucky; I am WAY ahead of the Internet crowd. Of 500 available packages, only 74 have been given away and 424 are left. Even if the total number of pins is already in excess of 39K. But who are you going to trust - your lying eyes or an unforgiving counter?  (More: see the source code of the scam page.)

The page beckons: "Pin it". I pin it. Step 1 - check.

This is my pin. The picture of the coffee cups was not on the page I just pinned. Who cares. Five other schmucks users have already liked it.

I am thinking "Hey, that was easy. I am going to get not just one, but TWO cards". I open another browser and type in that giftinterest URL again.

Oh, what a stroke of luck. Look, the number of packages remaining - 442 - now is larger than it was a minute ago. Someone must have returned theirs. I refresh the page. The number is different yet again. Eventually, if you let the page just sit there, it will go down to zero. Refresh the page, and it reset to  some random number greater than 0 but smaller than 500.

But whatever. I pin again.

This time, the pinned picture is different.

I figure since I don't drink coffee anyway two cards are enough. I go back to the giftinterest page and click "Final Step".

Yes! Here I learn that the value of the card is $100 (but only if you qualify).  The page asks me for my email.

The pop-up window tells me to write "I Love Starbucks" on Facebook. That I can't do. I love Dunkin' Donuts

The rest of the story is familiar to everyone who has ever taken Free iPad surveys.  You get into the funnel...

... and fill out a bunch of surveys and leave your personal info...

... and at some point you are gently prompted to install some spyware...

Needless to say, it is very unlikely that Starbucks has anything to do with this project. was registered on February 24, 2012 in private, and both and (the two domains that popped up in various fine prints) are registered to a company in India.

Bonus track:  An identical scam is promising free H&M cards to the unsuspecting pinners.

Update: Part II - How The Scammers Hijacked Facebook Likes


  1. Wow this is really eye opening on how persuasive advertisements can be. I would have fallen for this pretty quickly!!

  2. Thanks, I pinned your post. Hopefully it helps soothe the burn.

  3. This is done every day on every website that exist. This is nothing new and is an old black hat marketing trick...

    I do not necessarily do these methods but have many co workers in the field that do. Currently that ad pays out about 1.50 to 1.80 for every person that enters their email so go figure how much this guy made if he/she didnt get caught doing so by the network their using.

  4. Unfortunately this is not the only scam out there telling you "You won" but need to complete the following things...usually many things I could care less about. Example: 2 gold, 2 silver, stay with 2-3 atleast 2 for 30 days...yada yada yada. Age old saying: if it seems to good to be true, it almost always is! I personally have UNSUBSCRIBED many times, but they keep coming back like an old nightmare! NO one gives $100.00 to $1,000.00 gift cards for nothing in return. Just saying...

  5. Where's the government enforcement? Where is the FTC that we fund with a fortune in taxes? This is such an old law-- not only Bait and Switch at best, but also fraud at many other levels. This scam is so much more prevalent this past 20 years because there is no enforcement folks, and the bad guys know it. Rather than enforcing old laws, they'll just write new laws to placate, and then won't enforce those either.

    1. I'm having a hard time finding "the FTC that we fund with a fortune in taxes"...

      Do 2 Google searches. FTC funding: $300 million. US population: ~311.5 million.

      Seems like we're actually getting quite a lot of protection for 96 cents per year per person.

  6. Thank you for sharing this - it's very eye opening. Has Starbucks responded to anyone who has fallen victim to this?

  7. Thanks for the share, this an interesting post.
    I would be interested in knowing how this will all turn out for those who were scammed.

  8. What do the scammers get out of this? Click throughs for whom? Sorry I dont get their scam other than snatching personal info. Which I guess is worth something.


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