HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) – Social media permeates the lives of many people – we use it to stay in touch, make new friends, shop, and have fun. But reports to the FTC show that social media is also increasingly where scammers go to con us. More than one in four people who reported losing money to fraud in 2021 said it started on social media with an ad, a post, or a message. In fact, the data suggest that social media was far more profitable to scammers in 2021 than any other method of reaching people.
More than 95,000 people reported about $770 million in losses to fraud initiated on social media platforms in 2021. Those losses account for about 25% of all reported losses to fraud in 2021 and represent a stunning 18-fold increase over 2017 reported losses. Reports are up for every age group, but people 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely as older adults to report losing money to these scams in 2021.
For scammers, there’s a lot to like about social media. 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. In fact, scammers could 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.
Reports make clear that social media is a tool for scammers in investment scams, particularly those involving bogus cryptocurrency investments — an area that has seen a massive surge in reports. More than half of people who reported losses to investment scams in 2021 said the scam started on social media. Reports to the FTC show scammers use social media platforms to promote bogus investment opportunities, and even to connect with people directly as supposed friends to encourage them to invest. People send money, often cryptocurrency, on promises of huge returns, but end up empty handed.
After investment scams, FTC data point to romance scams as the second most profitable fraud on social media. Losses to romance scams have climbed to record highs in recent years. More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 said it 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.
While investment and romance scams top the list on dollars lost, the largest number of reports came from people who said they were scammed trying to buy something they saw marketed on social media.  In fact, 45% of reports of money lost to social media scams in 2021 were about online shopping. In nearly 70% of these reports, people said they placed an order, usually after seeing an ad, but never got the merchandise. Some reports even described ads that impersonated real online retailers that drove people to lookalike websites. When people identified a specific social media platform in their reports of undelivered goods, nearly 9 out of 10 named Facebook or Instagram.
Together, investment scams, romance scams, and online shopping fraud accounted for over 70% of reported losses to social media scams in 2021. But there are many other frauds on social media too, and new ones popping up all the time. Here are some ways to help you and your family stay safe on social media:
- Limit who can see your posts and information on social media. All platforms collect information about you from your activities on social media, but visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions.
- Check if you can opt out of targeted advertising. Some platforms let you do that.
- If you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or an urgent need for money, call them. Their account may have been hacked – especially if they ask you to pay by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.
- If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down. Read about romance scams. And never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Before you buy, check out the company. Search online for its name plus “scam” or “complaint.”
To learn more about how to spot, avoid, and report scams — and how to recover money if you’ve paid a scammer—visit ftc.gov/scams. If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
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