Politics are dangerous ground. Families stop talking, tensions rise, and people take stupid actions—including making financial contributions to organizations they know nothing about. And that’s the perfect setup for political scams that can cost you thousands of dollars.
Fake Political Action Committees (PACs)
A legitimate PAC must be registered with the Federal Election Commission. PACs have specific reporting requirements, and you can see what candidates/causes they support by looking them up at the Center for Responsive Politics or on the FEC website. No matter what your politics, there’s a PAC to support your team.
Fake PACs, however, have no such restrictions. In fact, they spend much of their money on fundraising or paying salaries to their own executives, not supporting their supposed cause. No matter which side you’re on, make sure your money goes to a legitimate organization, not one designed purely to line the pockets of its organizers.
Ads disguised as news
Part of the way PACs make their money is by advertising. Facebook is the granddaddy of all ad providers. It’s where most people go to interact with their friends, stay informed, and where they pay the most attention to online advertising.
Those Facebook ads are driven by your activity. Did you view a story about a particular candidate or cause? Facebook knows. Did you like a page? Facebook knows. The bottom line is Facebook knows far more that you realize about what you do and don’t like.
Facebook tracks your online activity. This practice makes them a powerful advertising medium—and why Facebook made $21 billion in the last quarter of 2019. If you’re a political activist and want to promote your agenda, target an ad on Facebook. Posts can look like news stories, cite fake sources, and do whatever you want. There’s no problem because Facebook doesn’t even try to weed out fact from fiction. In other words, just because you read it online, doesn’t make it true, but it does create fertile ground for political scams and misinformation.
Three tips to avoid political scams
Tip 1: Check out a political action committee or candidate before you give them money.
Tip 2: Don’t allow online ads to influence you. Those ads can easily lure you into a scam.
Tip 3: Create a script to use when you receive a phone or in-person solicitation. You don’t need to make this elaborate. It can be as simple as, “I’ve already determined my contributions for the year.”