Social media has been nothing short of a miracle for many people who rely on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to create communities and stay in touch with friends and acquaintances. They’re convenient, easy to use, and available on every smartphone.
These are the exact qualities that make them so appealing to criminals. Social media is a cost-effective way to reach billions of people all around the world. In 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 95,000 people reported being the victim of a fraud initiated on social media via a post, online ad, or message. The FTC reports that these losses added up to $770 million – dollar-for-dollar more than a quarter of all scams and because the vast majority of frauds go unreported, these numbers reflect just a small fraction of the harm that’s done.
Surprisingly, unlike other types of come-ons, social media scams are most successful with young people. Adults ages 18 to 39 submitted social media fraud reports at a rate 2.4 times higher than adults 40 and over.
How it works
Some scammers create a likable, apparently trustworthy, persona for themselves while others hack into an existing profile and either pose as the owner or hijack their “friends” list. From there, it’s simple to reach out and con someone. People offer a wealth of personal information online, such as their birth date, names of family members, shopping preferences, hobbies, and even vacation plans, allowing scammers to fine-tune and personalize their approach.
The FTC lists the top three types of social media scams:
The number one social media scam is for investments. Especially hot are bogus cryptocurrency investments, which appear to offer wide-open opportunities to make money, to people who may not completely understand how it works. Victims send money or cryptocurrency based on promises of huge returns that never materialize.
Romance scams earn the number two spot in profitability. This isn’t surprising at a time characterized (for many) by loneliness and isolation. More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 reported it began on either Facebook or Instagram, usually with an apparently innocent friend request. The scammer, posing as a possible romantic partner, seems to be offering love but inevitably, is only after money.
Coming in third in dollars lost (but #1 in frequency), are online shopping scams, with victims reporting that they tried to buy something they saw advertised on social media. Nearly 70% report placing an order but never receiving merchandise. Some describe ads impersonating actual online retailers, driving shoppers to lookalike websites. Of people who identified a specific social media platform, 90% named Facebook or Instagram.
Keep yourself safe
There are many other social media frauds with new ones popping up every day. Here are some ways to help you stay safe online:
- Limit who can see your posts and information.
- Go to your privacy settings and set up restrictions.
- See if you can opt-out of targeted advertising.
- If you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or asking for money, call them yourself. Their account may have been hacked.
- If someone on social media rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down. Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
- Before you buy anything from an online advertiser, check them out. Google the name of the company with the word “scam” or “complaints”.
This article is designed to provide informative material and is distributed with the understanding that it does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy and interpretation are not guaranteed.