If you've ever purchased anything from a Facebook ad, there's a good chance someone was ripped off.

Every social network has some form of advertising baked in, and the one thing all forms of sponsored posts have in common is the potential for abuse. Anyone with a couple of bucks can broadcast to a large audience based on Facebook's interest algorithm. For someone like me, actively babbling about tech and whatever TV show or game I am currently excited about, it's easy to pick things to float in my feed that I would be at least casually interested in.

To Facebook's credit, this system works well for me. I regularly see things I would honestly consider buying. Unfortunately, a significant majority of those things turn out to be either massive scams where people don't get the things they ordered or stolen art from all over the web sold as original content. It sucks, and Facebook seems entirely uninterested in dealing with this problem.

Screwing artists over

I buy a lot of nerdy t-shirts. I give them as gifts, keep a bunch for myself, and it usually doesn't take much to catch my interest. But that consumer habit made me deeply familiar with the most common retailers for the best shirts, which is why when I started seeing new companies hit my Facebook feed I wanted to know more about them. What I found was really, really bad.

These three screenshots all come from the same retailer, TeeChip. Facebook's algorithm makes it so my feed is packed with stuff from this company. That's not obvious, since the URL is masked or flat out changed. You'll basically never see TeeChip in a URL on Facebook, because scammers know the name has gained a fair bit of negativity by now.

TeeChip lets anyone upload any image and sell it as their own product, on shirts and mugs and phone cases and posters. These "creations" can then be blasted across Facebook and sold at a fairly reasonable price to anyone, without the original artist having any clue this is happening until hundreds or thousands have been sold.

It's not just TeeChip, though it is the most successful on Facebook by far.

When artists do eventually discover this is happening, there's very little that can be done to stop it. Facebook is sent evidence of this theft every day, and the posts are never taken down. TeeChip, a company with zero positive BBB comments on its profile, is basically never held accountable. The stories of artists being blatantly ripped off can be found all over the web.

And it's not just TeeChip, though it is the most successful on Facebook by far. There are dozens of other companies selling tons of other products that can be quickly branded however someone else chooses and sold as an original product. The person making the purchase has no clue, and in many cases, the product you purchase is not exactly what you thought you were ordering.

Identifying the scam

Teechip

If this is a thing you care about, there are a couple of easy ways to make sure what you are buying is from the actual artist responsible for the thing you like. The first thing you can do is look on the retail page for any mention of the artist responsible. If you don't see one listed, you can grab a screenshot of the artwork and look for the artist through a Google Image search. Take a look and see in the search results if there's any evidence of this shirt being sold in the past.

Next, when it comes to Facebook Sponsored Posts, it's a good idea to look up the company selling the thing before making a purchase. It's not hard to look up TeeChip for example and see how many complaints the company has across consumer rating sites or the Better Business Bureau. Not every website will have a ton of positive or negative comments, but it never hurts to look.

In many cases, these shirts and posters are being sold through more reputable sites.

Finally, if the artist is on Twitter or Facebook or has an active email address, you can ask them if they are aware the art is being sold. In many cases, these shirts and posters are being sold through more reputable sites like TeeFury and RedBubble in ways that actually benefit the artist responsible. These sites also have things like public return policies, so you can be sure what you're buying is what you actually ordered.

Not everyone cares about making sure the artists responsible for the clever things you find around the internet are actually pair for their work. If you're one of the people who do, pay extra close attention the next time a Facebook Sponsored Post seems way too perfect for you.