Speaking Of Faux News…

Quartz recently published an in-depth description of a widespread scam that focused on the elderly–actually, on a very specific subset of elderly Americans.

The scam itself consisted of selling precious metals–especially coins–to people worried about impending government actions that would devalue their assets or even confiscate their savings. Obviously, the scam required an ability to find people sufficiently suspicious and fearful of government to harbor these fears.

A former salesperson for one of the companies implicated in the scams told Quartz that the ideal targets were people who believed the dollar could collapse tomorrow, people who had a deep-seated distrust of government, the elite, Wall Street, and the entire system.

How does a scammer locate people likely to be sufficiently gullible?

Facebook provided the means to show scare-mongering ads, like one that blared “Is Your Retirement Protected from the Deep State?” exclusively to those people. This ad, which ran in March 2019, contained a “sign up” form that included a link to Metals.com’s privacy policy.

Just like a diaper company can pick from Facebook’s targeting options to show its ads to parents, whoever purchased Metals.com’s ads could choose very specific groups of people.

Quartz found a large network of Facebook ads with various connections to Metals.com. According to the “Why am I seeing this” information given to people who saw the ads, those ads were designed to reach people over 59 years old whom Facebook had classified, based on their tracked web browsing history, as “very conservative” or “interested in” Fox News personality Sean Hannity or other conservative media figures….

When a Facebook user clicked on certain Metals.com-affiliated ads, many of which didn’t mention Metals.com, like one ad from “Fox News Insider Reports,” they would be taken to a website with a URL such as FoxInsiders.com.co. The web page urged them to “Call NOW” while a countdown timer created a false sense of urgency, over a line that read “Offer Only Valid For Next 15 Minutes.”

Fox has disclaimed any relationship to the companies involved, and is reportedly assessing its legal options.

In fairness, Fox wasn’t the only bogus imprimatur; other ads purported to be connected to the “US Retirement Bureau” or “Republican House Committee.” All of them, however, claimed rightwing political identities and played on the fears common to elderly conservatives. (One promised to “protect your savings from the coming account freeze.”)

And as the article points out, Facebook approved every one of those ads.

Even after Facebook implemented new political-ad rules that it said would “ensure that you can see who is paying for the ad,” some ads, running under the name of “Retired Republicans,” included a disclaimer saying that they were “Paid for by Webinar Technologies.” That is the name of an anonymously registered Wyoming corporation. Later ads from the “Retired Republicans” page linked to Metals.com’s privacy policy. Other ads said they were paid for by entities such as “Precious Retirement Strategies,” which Quartz was unable to confirm exists.

Facebook accepted at least $3 million, and likely much more, for ads affiliated with Metals.com‚ according to a Quartz analysis of statistics published by Facebook. The social network displayed the ads tens of millions of times over at least 21 months, despite Facebook’s claim of keeping a close eye on its powerful political advertising tools after they were used by Russian operatives in the 2016 election. The ads under the “Webinar Technologies” name were listed as the 18th-largest political advertiser on Facebook a few days after election day in the US in November 2018.

The article is lengthy, and contains a number of stories about the plights of the elderly people who were defrauded. As unfortunate as these examples are, they point to the larger harms being facilitated by social media’s ability to “targetcast.” 

They also confirm the accuracy of unflattering characterizations of the Fox audience–elderly, white, unsophisticated and frightened–and underscore the dangers of living in a bubble.

Any bubble.


  1. I have known many people that have been sold a bill of goods as it relates to metal trading and investing.
    Many bought gold and silver that is held by secure companies in their own safes for them should or when a national financial disaster occurs. They do not have any physical control over their investments other that a piece of paper saying they own this much gold and silver and it will be securely delivered to them in the event of the $ fiscal failure. Most likely by Santa Clause or the Tooth Fry. They have invested foolishly but believe their guns and gold will save them and that Hannity, Rush and several noted right wing pundits will be there handing over their gold, when in fact it will be stored on the yachts or G5’s headed for their own Forign properties.
    A fool and their money are easily parted.

  2. “Facebook accepted at least $3 million, and likely much more, for ads…”

    The so-called “Russian influence” purchased a whopping $40 thousand in ads, and most of those dollars were collected after the election. And if you’ve been following the plot twists within the “Impeachment Inquiry,” the “political influencing” was being done by Ukraine, not Russia.

    Before using the term, “social media,” I’d like to remind people that Google and other “INTERNET” companies use the same tracking methods which are developed by our personal use of the internet (data).

    Shop for a Ford car on the internet and “magically” you’ll see ads on Facebook for Ford cars.

    Google and Facebook call it “customizing the user’s experience.” There are millions of ads you won’t see if you’ve shown no interest in those topics. Thus, the ads are “customized.”

    I won’t speak to the people who lost money because “scams” are scams and terms like “buyer beware” and “a fool and their money are soon parted” come to mind, but the most crucial issue is tracking our data and who has access to that data.

    Remember John Brennan’s infamous lie, “The NSA does not spy on the American people.”?

    Since that lie under oath to Congress, we’ve learned that ALL our text messages, phone calls, and emails are collected by the NSA thanks to ATT, Verizon, etc. All of it — it’s called data mining.

    The Intercept has done some excellent reporting on this topic because of Glenn Greenwald being given Edward Snowden’s treasure trove of government documents.

    The question of data sharing and privacy are huge topics. Journalists and whistleblowers are especially vulnerable and have to use encryption software to communicate; otherwise, sources cannot be protected from third parties. There is software that can even change the location of where I send a document so that the “government” sees my internet access point (HTTP) as Sri Lanka instead of Indiana.

    There are lots of “bubbles” within our new Information Age.

  3. Todd Smekens, the political influencing is almost universally accepted to have been a Russian operation. Wake up.

  4. Todd Smekens, the only people who think Ukraine was involved in the interference with our election are those who think that Devin Nunes is a believable source of information. They probably buy from Metals.com too.

  5. This might be a good time to step back and evaluate where we are getting our information. Our personal bubbles have gotten much more sophisticated in how they present what we might deem as facts. Let’s be just a little bit skeptical of everything we see or hear and dig a little deeper to see if it is true, before we adopt a position.

  6. @Ken Granger, “the political influencing is almost universally accepted to have been a Russian operation. Wake up.”

    The US government participated in the coup to ouster a Russian friendly (non-capitalist) president from Ukraine to install another puppet regime friendly to the West. This prompted Russia to reclaim Crimea. You want me to believe our MIC when they say, “Russia influenced our election.”?

    Our federal government is a propaganda machine just like Russia. If you are gullible enough to believe our propaganda than beware of scams like Metals.com.co.

    Also, beware of scams like MSNBC. 😉

  7. Perhaps instead of battling over who is worse, the US of A or Russia, we instead focus on ways to regain our privacy and then retain it. IMO Facebook is the lead actor, but the public’s indiscriminate use of all things internet is an addiction we need to cure. We can each stop going to Facebook, and is it really necessary to “map” your every move on your smart phone? Can we start there?

  8. “Many bought gold and silver that is held by secure companies in their own safes for them should or when a national financial disaster occurs. They do not have any physical control over their investments other that a piece of paper saying they own this much gold and silver and it will be securely delivered to them in the event of the $ fiscal failure.”

    Ray; thank you for your comments above, they restored my faith in my own ability to reach common sense conclusions regarding the economy in this country and buying precious metals as a solution. My best friend since 1953, who grew up in poverty here and is now what we used to call “well off” financially, bought into this. When the Republicans took control of this government in 2010, working against President Obama for racial reasons, she began buying up gold…and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). This is a super intelligent woman with two Masters Degrees and at times was taking classes in San Jose University in one area and teaching classes in another area.

    “The scam itself consisted of selling precious metals–especially coins–to people worried about impending government actions that would devalue their assets or even confiscate their savings. Obviously, the scam required an ability to find people sufficiently suspicious and fearful of government to harbor these fears.”

    Sheila’s words above proved my friend’s basic belief that this government would, could and is currently providing the greatest scam against seniors who may be a little “well off” but the greatest scam is against middle-class, lower-class and those living in poverty and sinking fast as Trump’s bogus “tax reform” forwards the proceeds from the scam to corporate America.

    I watched the Impeachment Inquiry hearings the past two weeks and was enlightened in many areas and alarmed in many areas due to what we did not know what was happening. But my greatest fear came from final comments by Republican Rep. Hurd who has been outspoken against Trump but stated he will NOT vote to impeach him because he is “standing with the right”. The “right”, the Republican party has never before had so much control, so much power and so much money and are perpetrating the greatest scam in history against America and all Americans by destroying all this country has stood for since the beginning. Not by foisting precious metals on unsuspecting investors but by destroying democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution; using the scorched earth battle plan which physically destroyed the south but not their political leavings. The White Nationalist, formerly White Supremacist, formerly the KKK, now reign; we are not sufficiently gullible, we are victims of the Faux Republican party.

  9. Todd, I’m sorry that the world is so wrong and hostile to you. Perhaps you should visit Nunes’ world, or Hannity’s world, or Breitbart’s world, or some other place where all your theories have credence.

    More to the point of today’s column: Fear mongering and disinformation, in some form, have been around since the invention of marketing, sales and, more precisely, economics. Capitalism plays to those fears and anxieties in order to sell goods and make money for the perpetrators of fear. The MIC is just another conglomerate, in total, who is out to satisfy its unslakable stockholders. So, scamming and manipulating the “customer base” is just business as usual in the world of easy money.

    Oh. Look. I’m sounding like Todd.

  10. Targeting the user audience is much worse than you expect.

    I was trying to buy some danish salt licorice. I was getting frustrated because no matter how I did a Google search, I always got the same results for the same companies in the US. I know there are brands out there, that no matter how I searched, I could not find. I even tried to use the danish version of google by searching at google.dk. I tried to change my region settings. I still got the same results.

    If this kind of thing happens when you shop for something inconsequential, what is happening when you are searching for something substantial. These companies have too much power.

    Todd might sound like he is off the mark on a few things, but he might be closer to the truth on others. You are not paranoid if they really are out to get you.

  11. Privacy is overrated. You need privacy for mostly two things: first, to secure your assets, a legitimate need; and second, to hide your secret dirty business, an illegitimate need. Beware the person who complains about loss of privacy, for he or she has something to hide.

    The Internet has not and does not take your privacy. It buys your privacy in a bit of old-fashioned barter. You willingly sell your privacy in that same barter system. For instance, you want to visit a website and are informed that to do so requires you to accept cookies. You click to accept. You have traded a fraction of your privacy for an entire website, as well as all of its information assets and its links to more of the same. You made that decision because you get a lot of something you want for the cost of just a tiny bit of privacy. Besides, it’s fun to bitch about loss of privacy (everyone thinks it’s so important)(everyone will think of you as a great patriot out there in the internet wilderness taking bullets to save privacy), and every one of these barter transactions on the internet gives you more wood for the faux patriot privacy fire.

    Look at it this way: while so many of your friends and relatives are very poor listeners and never seem to listen to what you have to say, the internet is a very good listener.

  12. I learned something shocking to me back when selling my paintings was my livelihood for forty years. Every time the economy dipped and/or fear of a recession rose, contrary to my expectations, demand for paintings went up dramatically. Collectors bought paintings for some of the same reasons investors buy gold and silver–as a hedge against the boogeyman. And art dealers’ sales pitches were loaded with fear tactics all the time, not just when the economy had a bad cough.

    But I don’t bring that phenomenon up as an example of Ain’t It Awful here where I try to live. It’s an example of reality.

    Brer Rabbit: Seems like every animal in the forest is out to get me.
    Peter Rabbit: Ain’t it awful. An eagle almost got me this morning.
    Energizer Bunny: There should be a law of the jungle to protect us rabbits.
    Hodge-Podge: There already is a law of the jungle, and it ain’t there to protect sissies.
    Easter Bunny: If you guys are gonna whine all day, I’m leaving. I’ve got lettuce and carrots waiting to be preyed on.

  13. Scams have a long history. One of first (if you believe it) was Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge”. Religion is it’s own scam, give us your money and a better life in the supernatural next life will follow.

    Every few months you can read about some hoard of Roman, Viking, etc., gold and precious metals found buried for safe keeping.

    Recent history scams gave rise to Ponzi Schemes, Junk Bonds, Enron, Bernie Madoff, etc. Everyday there is some advertisement to convince someone a reverse mortgage is just what they need, or a new credit card.

    The target market is the greedy and fearful, and as history has demonstrated there is never a shortage of greed and fear.

  14. Advertising/fake news/propaganda/brainwashing are only some of the threats that these days impose on civil stability. We are also at the end of the fossil fuels which provide our energy slaves. We are also facing unprecedented climate and sea level rise and ocean chemistry changes. In fact it’s not just our supply of energy at a crossroads its our supply of everything the earth provides at the limits of its capability because of the human population that now infests every corner of earth.

    Despite the existential crises facing us from every direction we are doing nothing effective to address any of them. Instead we are glued to our sources of entertainment watching the greatest show on earth – clowns playing government.

    The whole show is brought to us by unfettered Capitalism squeezing the last of wealth redistribution from those who produce all of it, workers, the middle class, tax payers, consumers, families, the human race.

    I usually wake up regretting the aches and pains and limitation of having lived through a quarter of American History. Then I remember what my grandchildren are facing.

  15. What if we had a society composed of critical thinkers and unafraid consumers? The crooks who have found new ways to communicate would go out of business. Perhaps we should work on cause rather than effect and create a world where both Facebook and the crooks who pay them would go out of business for a want of ability to identify the target audience, there being none.

  16. JoaAnn @ 12:29 pm, Who knows, I will let the Bible Thumper’s wrestle with that. I do not believe in the Supernatural anyway.

  17. In addition to education focusing on critical thinking, we desperately need to teach visual literacy and web literacy….and now also…”truth literacy”????

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