It’s no surprise, considering that Covid-19 has left many countries’ tourism industries in shatters, that numerous organizations have started offering virtual tours and digital excursions. These companies and organizations promise their “visitors” a virtual tour of highly sought-after international attractions. Examples include the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, the Louvre museum in Paris, and many others.
Don’t allow scammers to spoil your virtual holiday
As with anything online, there are also scammers in the virtual tour business. We found one company in particular, Virtualtourlive.net, which has been very active with advertising on Facebook recently. Through the targeted ads from their Facebook page, they offer tours to famous tourist sites such as the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, Mount Everest, and as can be seen below, the Taj Mahal.
Judging from the number of interactions on their Facebook page, this initiative is quite popular. It’s possible that part of their interactions are bought (and therefore ‘fake’), although we confirmed that real people are being targeted at scale by their Facebook ads, because we ourselves and people we know had the ads show up in our Facebook feeds repeatedly. We’ve also seen numerous family members and acquaintances express interest in some of the events advertised by virtourlive.net.
The offer of a free sightseeing tour might sound tempting, but be wary of this scam. There are several red flags indicating this is not a legitimate initiative. When we tried to register for one of the free tours through one of the many Facebook ads they run, we were initially redirected to a website called Pixie Fun (pixiefun.net). Within a time span of just a couple of hours, the virtualtourlive.net ads kept directing us to different pages each time. We were directed to sites like slashstar.net, moringe.net, praymedia.net, and glitzglamnow.com. In fact, the landing pages for all these websites were identical, it’s just the URL that kept changing. Below we’ve attached an example of a landing page you will encounter when trying to join a free virtual tour through one of the virtualtourlive.net Facebook ads.
There is not a single mention of virtual tours or holidays on these landing pages. Instead, there is an offer for free access to movies, music, books, and games. Soon after, the sites ask for your credit card details, under the pretext that they need this information to verify where you live. They emphasize your card will not be charged. Be careful not to share your credit card details with these dodgy websites.
While it is true that streaming services – assuming this is actually a streaming service – often want to know where their visitors live, they generally use different ways of obtaining this information, for instance by checking your IP address. It is suspicious that they’re asking for your credit card details here.
Signs that Virtual Tour Live is a scam
Let’s sum up some facts to assess the legitimacy of virtualtourlive.net.
- Virtualtourlive.net runs extensive ads on Facebook targeting people interested in virtual tours. Subsequently, interested Facebook users are redirected to a questionable streaming service on a questionable and continuously changing domain.
- The landing page of the Facebook ads does not mention virtual tours at all. Instead, it wants you to sign up for a free streaming service using your credit card details.
- We called the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which Virtual Tour Live supposedly visited as part of their tour of Amsterdam. The two Rijksmuseum employees we spoke to told us they weren’t aware of the existence of this organization.
- The tour descriptions don’t include clear itineraries, the virtualtourlive.net website is low quality and not up-to-date at all, and their Facebook page features all sorts of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors as well as strange posts of animals.
- Our advanced antivirus software, as well as certain adblockers, immediately blocked the landing pages of the virtualtourlive.net Facebook ads. Usually, this happens when domains are blacklisted or potentially suspicious or dangerous activity is registered on a site. We had to open these links in an incognito tab with certain malware protection features turned off before we were able to access these pages.
- We weren’t able to find that many authentic user experiences, but we did discover some recent 1-star reviews on Trustpilot. People complain that they were not able to access the tour, even after filling in their credit card details. We attached a screenshot of one of the Trustpilot reviews below.
All of this leads us to believe Virtual Tour Live is nothing but a scam. We suspect it is either a way to steal your credit card credentials directly or to have you sign up for a supposedly free streaming service. No doubt they will attempt to start charging your credit card sooner or later.
Hundreds of thousands Facebook users are at risk
To get an idea of the extent of the problem, we took a look at various events on the Facebook page of virtualtourlive.net. It turns out that hundreds of thousands of Facebook users find these events interesting or attend them.
|Datum||Virtual Tour location||Number of Facebook users stating to attend the event||Number of Facebook users expressing interest in the event|
|Saturday January 30, 2021||Jerusalem and Bethlehem||1K||6K|
|Saturday January 30, 2021||Gaudi’s Barcelona||51.1K||412.4K|
|Monday February 1, 2021||Machu Picchu, Peru||11.1K||78.7K|
|Tuesday February 2, 2021||Tibet and Mount Everest||1.7K||15.4K|
|Tuesday February 2, 2021||Krakow, Poland||505||4.1K|
|Wednesday February 3, 2021||Capitals of Scandinavia||2.8K||42.1K|
|Monday February 8, 2021||Taj Mahal, India||2.4K||27.2K|
|Thursday March 4, 2021||Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York||364||3.2K|
|Friday April 2, 2021||The pyramids and Egyptian Museum||264||3.1K|
The fact that participants are recruited on this scale also indicates that it is an extensive initiative with a large reach and a substantial advertising budget. Virtualtourlive.net does not deliver on its promises; there are no tours and they are trying to extract sensitive payment information for a service that is supposedly free. So be warned and steer clear.
If you are interested in a virtual tour, put your trust in legitimate organizations. The first step is checking the official website of the tourist attraction you wish to visit digitally. If they have virtual tours available in any way, shape, or form, your best chance of finding them is through the official website.
For instance, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, offers free video tours on its official website. No registration or payment details required. Its next-door neighbour, the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, also has an ‘enjoy the museum from home‘ page. Furthermore, make sure to check out the website of the Louvre in Paris, where you can digitally visit various expositions, free of charge.