Spammers are earning as much as $200 million just by posting links on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) fan pages that would connect users to third-party scam sites, based on a study conducted by Italian security researchers as reported by The Guardian.

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Large number of links posted on Facebook: Italian researchers say

The Italian researchers evaluated a large number of links posted on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and they were able to identify which posts are spam. According to the lead researchers, Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, spammers generally entice users with phrases like, “Hey click here for a free iPhone,” followed by a link to third party sites outside the social network giant’s platform.

According to the researchers, the spammers are paid an average of $13 per post for pages with approximately 30,000 fans, and around $58 per post for pages with more than 100,000 fans. Based on this computation, spam posters are making around $87 million to $390 million annually. The weighted average is approximately $200 million.

“If we consider these two as extremes, the pages we analyzed generate a revenue of 18,000 posts per day, times the revenue per post – ranging from $13 to $58 – 365 days a year,” said De Micheli.

Spammers first set up their own “fan pages” on Facebook

The researchers found that spammers first set up their own “fan pages” on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and attract users to “like” their pages. They start selling links to third parties once they accumulate enough followers on their pages. De Micheli and Stroppa identified 20 sites where spammers offer  their services of posting spam links for cash.

One of the spammers interviewed by the researchers argued that they are helping Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and the company does not ban them because they generate content. The spammer said, “Everyday, I materialize funny, and interesting content full of phrases and so forth that is shared and liked by thousands of users. Without the fan pages, Facebook would be an empty place. Tell me how many links do you see shared by your friends on your timeline everyday? You see – the answer is simple.”

De Micheli and Stroppa countered that the primary intention of the spammer is to make money. They said, “For people involved in this business the sole reason to continue is for the profit. We even found somebody who was selling a page dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Boston terrorist attack for $1,000.”

The researchers discovered that spammers had been selling links on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) since 2010. Currently, spammers are offering around $8 to $20 per post on fan pages with more than 30,000 likes and $35 to $100 per post on fan pages with more than 100,000 likes.

Facebook is taking action against spam pages

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is taking action against spam pages once they are reported by users. The social network giant’s spokesperson said, “Protecting the people who use Facebook is a top priority for us, and we have developed a number of automated systems to identify potentially harmful links and stop them from spreading. Those systems quickly spotted these links, and we are working to clear them from the site now.”

The social network giant said it is blocking people from clicking links and reported bad browser extensions to appropriate properties. Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) said only a small percentage of its users were affected by the problem.

“We are currently working with them to ensure that they’ve removed the bad browser extension. We will keep improving our systems to ensure that people continue to have a safe experience on Facebook,” said the company’s spokesperson.