Beware This Tiny Home Scam (and How to Spot It)

If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

tiny house


The popularity of tiny homes has soared during the last several years, with many people dreaming of owning a tiny home of their own. Unfortunately, along with this booming popularity, there has been a corresponding increase in online scams, which promise a free tiny house to give away in exchange for users liking, commenting, and sharing the original promotional post—or worse, sharing their financial information or paying a fee to collect the bogus prize.

The phenomenon has become widespread enough in recent years that it has its own Snopes and AFP Fact Check pages, cautioning people from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and beyond that the people behind these scams often use giveaways to gain followers and expand their reach.

Some giveaways are ostensibly contests that will lure users in with false promises of a free tiny house that will be given away to the lucky winner(s), while also encouraging users to like and share the initial post. Some of these fake social media pages or organizations can gain tens of thousands of followers and likes over a relatively short period of time.

This type of scam—called like-farming or like-harvesting—aims to raise the popularity of a website domain, or a certain page or post, by accumulating as many likes and shares as possible, thus giving the fake promotion a veneer of credibility. This potentially prompts even more unwitting users to join in the scheme. As Snopes pointed out, the tiny house giveaway scam features this simple but effective approach:

"As with all like-farming Facebook scams, the purported tiny house contests adhered to a simple format: users were instructed to like a separate page, like the original post, and share the post on their own Facebook timelines (thereby validating its legitimacy and enticing others to do the same). Although the tiny houses purportedly up for grabs appeared visually different in various posts, the instructions for 'winning' them were virtually identical."

While sharing such fake giveaways might seem harmless, these scams may also open the door to other possibilities, such as resulting in these shady accounts gaining more followers, and then being sold for a profit and renamed.

In addition, scammers might also mine users' personal data—names, phone numbers, and email addresses—which can then be sold or misused in other ways, such as exposing them to malware, clickjacking, or having their names misappropriated in support of other scams or pages that disseminate hate.

tiny house scam
Example of a giveaway that is too good to be true.

Kimberley Mok

Here are some red flags to look out for.

Stolen Photos

One of the biggest red flags that people should watch out for is to check out the images that are used in such fraudulent schemes. Often a reverse image search will uncover that the attractive images of the tiny house prize may in fact be stolen from a legitimate tiny house company.

Oregon-based tiny house builder Tru Form Tiny recounts how some scammers are using the company's images of beautifully built tiny homes to bilk people out of thousands of dollars by asking for things like "title fees," and why such scams are too good to be true:

"The Facebook group 'Tiny Homes Under 70k' and their admin Robin Westfall have done this repeatedly. Additionally, the tiny home builder Vista Tiny Homes has falsely advertised they could build our exclusive product for under $70k. There have been multiple instances of Instagram users commenting on our posts, asking our followers to directly message them for pricing information and stating they could deliver our tiny homes for $50k. We cannot begin to emphasize how inaccurate and frankly impossible these false promises are. Our custom travel trailer chassis range in price from $10k-$20k alone. Add in our high standard of craftsmanship, finishes, appliances, custom built-ins, and our proprietary and professionally drafted plans, and you are well over the claimed $70k in costs—not to mention the overwhelming overhead it takes to run a custom home manufacturing company."

New Page, No Contact Information, No Verification

Another alarm should go off if the page in question seems like it was launched relatively recently, and lacks any sort of contact information or a more detailed website. Other variations on this scheme might also have people impersonating someone from a well-known organization calling you up and asking for personal information, or for money to be paid in a specific way, like a wire transfer or cryptocurrency.

Alternatively, one should also always do some extra research and check that the company is verified in some way on the social media platform in question, to make sure the company or organization is actually who they say they are.

There Are No Terms and Conditions

By law, online contests are supposed to have some kind of information somewhere detailing the terms and conditions, as well as the organizer's contact details, how the winner will be selected, and eligibility requirements. If there's no information at all, that's a big clue that the giveaway is a hoax.

In the end, it's important to remember that real giveaways are quite rare, and will typically operate through the official social media accounts of major companies and brands. Unless we do our due diligence, such exploitative scams can be quite convincing and remind us of the adage that if it's too good to be true, then it probably isn't.

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