Tohidul Islam Raso

Research Officer, Dismislab
3,000+ deceptive Facebook ads exploit TV channels and Prime Minister’s photo

3,000+ deceptive Facebook ads exploit TV channels and Prime Minister's photo

Tohidul Islam Raso

Research Officer, Dismislab

Fake advertisements of mobile financial service bKash featuring Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s photo have been circulating on Facebook, accompanied by logos from two different television channels. According to the Meta Ad Library, over 3,000 such advertisements were found on May 5 and 6 alone, Verification shows that a total of 16 Facebook pages were responsible for running these deceptive bKash offers. Clicking on these advertisements redirects Facebook users to another website. The majority of the pages from which these advertisements are run have administrators in Cambodia and Indonesia.

1,871 ads are found in the Meta ad library by typing “I am giving 5000 taka gift to everyone in the country; click here to get money” in Bangla. The ads were run from eight different Facebook pages. Two of the pages are not active anymore, while the remaining six are active. Besides, 1,509 ads were found by typing “Click here to get 5000 Tk bonus” – search. They are run from eight individual pages. More than 1,500 of these ads were still running on Facebook at the time of writing this report.

All of these advertisements include the image of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as well as the logos of two private television networks, News24 and Channel-i.

An analysis of 16 Facebook pages showed that 11 of them contained information about the location of the admin. Each of these 11 pages listed one or more admins from Cambodia and Indonesia. In addition, to these two countries, three pages have Bangladeshi admins, while two pages have Indian admins. 

The spread of fake offers under the guise of bKash on social media is nothing new. In February of this year, an advertisement surfaced on Facebook, claiming” bKash Offer on Valentine’s Day”. Dismislab published an extensive report on this. However, the inclusion of  Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in such fake advertisements is latest.  Furthermore, the addition of logos from mainstream media sources is a new development in such deceptive bKash offers. To be more clear, Dismislab contacted News24 to confirm this worry, and was informed that no such advertisement campaign had been conducted by them, and they disavow any involvement with such advertisements.

According to the Meta policy on ‘Advertising Standards’, an ad must be marked as ‘Political category’ if it contains political figures. bKash’s fake ads used a picture of the prime minister of the Bangladesh government; who is certainly a political figure. However, Meta did not flag any of these three thousand ads as political. This oversight has raised concerns about the effectiveness of Meta’s enforcement of advertising policies. A previous study by the research organization ‘Digitally Right‘  highlights broader challenges within Meta’s advertising policies and calls for increased scrutiny and accountability from stakeholders and regulatory bodies.

It was not confirmed how much had been sponsored to run these fake ads on Meta or how many users the ads reached. Meta does not disclose this information in any categories’ advertisements except the political category. Although the exact amount of money spent on these ads couldn’t be confirmed, Dismislab calculated a general estimate of the costs. A total of 3380 ads are running from 16 different pages. And Meta recommends that most advertisers who spend money on impression ratios budget at least $1 per day. Even with the minimum daily advertising cost of one US dollar, the fraudulent advertisements worth US $3,380 should circulate on the meta platform in a single day. This adds up to four lakh taka in Bangladeshi taka.

Clicking on such a fake ad link leads to a different landing page similar to bKash. Users are prompted to fill out an application form to receive the promised gift. After completing the form,  they are directed to the payment gateway of bKash. If  they proceed to input their PIN and the bKash number, their account money will be at risk.