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?
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.
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.