Scammers are increasingly turning to social media platforms, with fraud via popular services such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter netting criminals at least $770 million in 2021, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
But as few people report tend to report such frauds due to feelings of embarrassment or shame, the 95,000 victims in the commission’s research are estimated to represent only a “small fraction” of the total number of such cases, the FTC said.
Scams via social media accounted for around 25% of all reported losses to fraud last year, marking an 18-fold increase in losses reported five years ago. Social media proved to be more profitable to scammers in 2021 “than any other method of reaching people,” the FTC said.
Every age group was affected, but those aged between 18 and 39 were more than twice as likely as older adults to fall victim to a social media scam over the last 12 months, the data showed.
The FTC said that those who reported losing money to fraud via social media in 2021 said the swindler’s ruse started with an ad, a post, or a message.
“For scammers, there’s a lot to like about social media,” the commission said in its recently published report. “It’s a low-cost way to reach billions of people from anywhere in the world. It’s easy to manufacture a fake persona, or scammers can hack into an existing profile to get ‘friends’ to con. There’s the ability to fine-tune their approach by studying the personal details people share on social media.”
It added that scammers can “easily use the tools available to advertisers on social media platforms to systematically target people with bogus ads based on personal details such as their age, interests, or past purchases.”
Investment-related cons proved to be the most lucrative scam for criminals using social media, particularly ones linked to fake cryptocurrency products, the FTC’s data revealed.
“People send money, often cryptocurrency, on promises of huge returns, but end up empty handed,” the commission said.
Romance scams were the second most profitable fraud on social media last year, according to the data, with more than a third of those targeted saying the deceit began on Facebook or Instagram.
“These scams often start with a seemingly innocent friend request from a stranger, followed by sweet talk, and then, inevitably, a request for money,” the FTC said.
Notably, while investment and romance scams resulted in the greatest financial losses, the highest number of reports were linked to instances where the victim was attempting to buy something advertised on social media, usually Facebook or Instagram. In such cases, the buyer placed an order for something that was never delivered. More sinister e-commerce scams nudged victims toward online stores designed to look like those of famous brands.
The FTC’s findings are a salutary reminder of the pitfalls of social media and the need for users to stay alert when engaging with content posted by others, especially if any kind of financial transaction is involved.
The commission offers various tips on how to avoid trouble, such as limiting who can see your posts and information on social media, avoiding the oversharing personal information, and calling a friend to confirm the situation if they appear to have sent you a message related to some form of payment.
Digital Trends also has an informative article about how to avoid trouble online. Check it out and stay safe.
If you’re in the U.S. and believe you’ve been a victim of a scam or fraud, you can report it via the FTC’s website.