VILNIUS - Lithuanian institutions lack response from Meta, the company that runs Facebook and Instagram, to reports of fraud and fake accounts, and plan to ask the European Commission for help to fight this problem.
Such an appeal is being prepared by the Communications Regulatory Authority and the Seimas Committee on Culture. The goal is to inform the EC about Meta's possible breaches of the Digital Services Act due to its failure to guaranteeing consumer safety.
On Wednesday, Debunk.org, a disinformation analysis centre, informed members of the parliamentary Committee on Culture about a study it had carried out on large-scale fraud, brand theft and the creation of fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
According to the center, scammers create clones of the websites and accounts of popular news websites, other media outlets, well-known people and companies in Lithuania on Facebook and Instagram and provide false information about ways to get rich fast and provide politicians and businesspesons' alleged calls to invest in fake investment platforms. These platforms are used to get people's personal and bank card details and rip them off.
"This is huge reach, a huge problem, and it's not being solved," Viktoras Dauksas, the head of Debunk.org and an expert in disinformation analysis, said during the committee meeting on Wednesday.
All the participants pointed out that Meta has failed to take any action to fight scammers and usually does not react to reports of such cases.
"Meta's non-cooperation is the biggest problem. If they removed everything, everything would be fine and there would be no complaints," Vytautas Kernagis, a member of the Committee on Culture, said.
SUSPECTED CRIMINAL GROUP
Debunk.org has been monitoring the situation since the beginning of this year and says it has found 118 websites that impersonate mainly Lithuanian media outlets, and also 124 accounts that are used to impersonate media and publish false advertising.
Scammers have impersonated Lithuania's LRT, LNK, Delfi, InfoTV, the Estonian national broadcaster, the largest Estonian newspaper, Ignitis, Swedbank and other banks operating in Lithuania. On their behalf, people have been invited to invest via fake investment platforms.
Dauksas says real websites' design is copied to perfection and it is impossible to tell them apart, and their content is stolen and used for manipulating people. When a person clicks on the provided ad, they are redirected to a clone of a news website or the website of a well-known bank or company, and the clone website provides information on the possibility of successful investment and links to fake investment platforms. And then people are tricked into providing the requested data.
The study found 1,144 false advertisements, shown more than 10 million times.
"At least half of all Facebook users in Lithuania have seen these ads," Dauksas pointed out, adding that Meta receives revenue from these ads.
"It seems that a criminal group may be behind this scheme as we are talking about a large amount of resources. This is not the work of a single person, it is a hired team of call centers, programmers, marketers that are promoting this. It's huge infrastructure," he said.
For her part, Lina Businskaite, head of the Internet Media Association, says website cloning could pose a threat to national security.
According to the Police Department, around 4,000 pre-trial investigations into online financial fraud have been opened this year.
NO RESPONSE FROM META
Participants of the committee meeting stressed that it is impossible to fight fraudsters without Meta's help as only it has the information needed to catch criminals. Websites have repeatedly asked Meta to block their clones but there has been no response, Businskaite said.
The Lithuanian government has sent Meta at least two letters about the problem but there has been no response, Dauksas claimed.
According to Vygantas Vaitkus, a member of the Communications Regulatory Authority, the Digital Services Act came into force in the EU earlier this year and provides tools to deal with such problems.
"The EU-wide system is in place. Meta is subject to it since the end of August. It covers all the obligations on content removal and the fines that the EC can impose, which can reach up to 6 percent of annual revenue. This is an instrument that we should use," he said.
Vaitkus said that the Communications Regulation Authority plans to send a letter to the EC in the coming weeks and inform it about problems related to fraud on social media.
"We have to make full use of this instrument today, which is to work with the EC. (...) This would probably be one of the most effective ways to address this situation and ensure that it does not happen again in the future," he said.