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Social media is a breeding ground for scams during COVID-19 crisis, FTC says

FTC says people lost record $117 million in first six months of 2020

SAN ANTONIO – Social media is for more than sharing pet pics and political fights. As people have been scrolling through the pandemic, scammers have been ripping them off for millions of dollars, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

People were duped out of a record $117 million during just the first six months of this year through scams that started on social media sites and apps, the FTC reports. Losses were $134 million in all of last year for such scams.

Reports of losses due to social media scams have more than tripled in the last year.

“We’re online a lot more,” said Jason Meza, regional director of the Better Business Bureau.

The scams are typically disguised as income opportunities, economic relief, romance potential or product sales.

Scammers can reach a fast, vast audience on social media. They place pitches, popups and ads designed to catch the eye of someone desperate for a paycheck, a relationship or just a new pair of shoes.

“They can target demographics, geo-position their ads and send people quickly to a fake website,” Meza said. “Once the purchase is made, the email of the shipment notification arrives, but the product never arrives.”

Meza advises people to make online purchases with a credit card because it usually offers protection.

Reports of no-show goods skyrocketed with the pandemic, and nearly one out of every four mentioned a social media hook, often Facebook or Instagram.

If you see an ad on your social media feed, don’t depend on the comments for validation.

“The scammers can delete comments on their ads or posts so that negative responses don’t show up and alert people to the con,” the FTC said in a release.

Romance scams have long been a problem, but more people than ever have reported losing money since the pandemic began, according to the FTC.

The scammers often start with a social media message or friend request. With so many people out of work and looking to make ends meet, scams offer work opportunities or grant money. Typically, these scammers are after your personal and financial information, your money, or both, the FTC said.

To protect yourself from scammers lurking on social media, experts advise the following:

  • Verify before you buy. Type a company’s name plus the word “scam” in a search engine and see what pops up.
  • Never send money to a love interest you have not met in person.
  • If you get a message from a friend about a way to get financial relief, call them. Their account could have been hacked.
  • Check your social media privacy settings to limit what you share publicly.
  • If you spot a scam, report it to the social media site and the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

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