Romance, pandemic relief among the most popular baits for vulnerable consumers
For Love and/or Money
The coronavirus is reshaping our way of life. Back in July, we reported on a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study that showed how the double threats of COVID-19 infection fright and stay-at-home protective measures were combining to produce unprecedented “undelivered item” scams. Users would go online, try to pick up important goods – mostly coronavirus-related equipment and supplies – pay the cost and simply never receive the expected package.
A few short months later, and the FTC is reporting a new set of stats that are as significant as they are predictable: An explosion of scams is originating through social media.
Unsurprisingly, the spike in scams began in early 2020, when many people began using social media as their lifeline to the world. “In 2019, total reported losses to these frauds reached $134 million,” the FTC wrote in its latest Consumer Protection Data Spotlight. “But reported losses reached record highs, climbing to nearly $117 million in just the first six months of 2020.”
The FTC notes that the scams were “often related to online shopping, romance scams, and supposed economic relief or income opportunities.” In short, financial insecurity and loneliness – two dreaded side effects of the pandemic.
Social media users inspired most of the complaints in which a villain was identified. Romance scams are as old as the Internet itself – much, much older, obviously, but we’re talking about old in the technological sense. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has interesting material on this type of scam, including first-person accounts of scam victimhood.
Economic scams are also nothing new, of course, but the flavor of recent scam activities reflects the present day: Many scammers claim to be in the business of providing pandemic relief, or are multilevel marketing schemes that promise unrealistic levels of income just when unemployed people are at their most vulnerable.
As always, we know our readers aren’t taking part in anything as nefarious as what’s sketched out by the FTC in its latest Spotlight. But we still recommend that any company that uses social media platforms to do business should be thorough about managing even the faintest whiff of COVID-19-related or even COVID-19-adjacent marketing claims – and completely paranoid about account security. Apparently, scammers are hijacking account identities and launching their scams from within the hacked account.
So throw some extra Funyuns and cans of Fresca to the guys and gals in your tech department. You’re going to want them to operate at 100 percent.