FTC says social media was a ‘gold mine’ for scammers in 2021, resulting in $770 million in losses

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Photo: Manan Vatsyayana / AFP (Getty Images)

Social media has become an increasingly popular tool among scammers in recent years, which is bad news for those of us who frequent the platforms. ONE new report by the Federal Trade Commission, released this week, dubbed social media a “gold mine for scammers” and reminded us all of a guiding principle to live by: Don’t trust anyone online.

According to the FTC, social media scams have grown at an alarming rate over the past five years, resulting in approximately $770 million in reported losses in 2021, a staggering 18-fold increase from 2017, which saw 42 million US dollars have been reported. The agency received more than 95,000 reports of social media scams last year in a variety of categories, including investment scams, love scams and online shopping scams.

Investment scams (37%) and love scams (24%) were the most profitable for scammers among those reported. (All cheating is an evil act, of course, but those who use romance to cheat are truly heartless).

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In investment scams, individuals with fake promising investment opportunities approach social media users with large returns, sometimes impersonating the victim’s friends to trick them into sending money. Cryptocurrency scams have increased what unfortunately no surprise given its boom in popularity.

Then there’s Romance Scams, a fraud category that’s also hitting record highs and does exactly what its name suggests.

“More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 said it started on Facebook or Instagram.” soft the FTC. “These scams often start with a seemingly innocent friend request from a stranger, followed by nice talk and then inevitably a demand for money.”

Online shopping was another notable fraud category in the agency’s report. Although not as profitable as the other types of scams mentioned above, it was the scam that was reported to the FTC the most, accounting for 45% of claims reported. Victims of these scams made a purchase on social media — Facebook and Instagram were the most cited platforms — but never received their purchase.

Overall, FTC data shows that in 2021, social media made more money for scammers than any other method of reaching people.

There’s a lot scammers may like about social media, the agency stated. For one, it’s a cost-effective way to reach billions of people worldwide. It’s also easy to lie about who they are and what their intentions are, and they can even hack into your social media connections’ profiles and try to get money out of you that way. We also reveal far too much about ourselves online, which allows scammers to study users’ personal information to better tailor their scheme.

“Scammers trying to get your money are always looking for new ways to reach people. And they’ll use everything they know about you to tailor their presentation,” said Rosario Méndez, associate of the agency’s consumer and business education department, in a blog entry.

Aside from being careful about the content and people you interact with on social media, there are some other good practices you can adopt. Some recommendations by the FTC include limiting who can see your posts and information on social media, disabling targeted advertising where possible, and calling friends who ask you for money on social media to confirm they really are are.

If you fall victim to a social media scam, don’t panic. There are ways so you may get your money back. However, to be safe, avoid investing, romance, and buying from companies you’ve never heard of before.


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