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updated 12/14/2011 10:48:48 AM ET 2011-12-14T15:48:48

Who wouldn't want a free $100 gift card to Costco? Just think of the massive amount of mustard and paper towels you could haul home with that cash burning a whole in your wallet.

It's this assumption that's behind a new scam spreading via Facebook links offering the free cash card, which claims to be available for a "limited time only," to every Facebook user. The messages include a link to awesome-prizes.com, where a ticker counts down how many "Free Cards" remain. (The ticker returns to 695 with each visit to the site.)

With more than 800 million users on Facebook, the financial logistics of this particular offer caused Sophos security researcher Graham Cluley to take notice.

"If you assume the message is true, and that Costco really is prepared to give 'all Facebook users' a $100 gift card," he wrote, "that means a jaw-dropping maximum of 80 billion US dollars! That's quite a budget Costco has there for its social media campaign."

Of course, the $100 Costco card is not real, but following the directions laid out by those spreading the rogue campaign could land you and your Facebook profile in hot water.

Once victims click on the link, they are immediately told to "like" the page and to share it with their Facebook friends, thereby keeping it spreading by making it appear to come from a trusted contact. Then, the link redirects users to a survey page — in Cluley's case it took him to a MAC makeup Web page that asked for his email address.

If you've mistakenly fallen for the big-box-store bait, remove the Costco-related entries from your Facebook news feed and make sure your profile is free from any unwanted "likes."

As the holidays get closer and people continue looking for gifts online, this is certainly not the last fake gift card or sale scam you'll see. If you come across a suspiciously generous offer, or one that seems implausible, stay away from it. Not only will you keep your computer clean from potential viruses, but you'll also help stop these phony scams from spreading and compromising your friends' accounts.

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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