Scams exploding on social media, Federal Trade Commission warns

Fraud victims ripped off for $770 million last year

Social media is how people connect with friends and increasingly, frauds, according to an analysis by the Federal Trade Commission.

Social media is how people connect with friends and increasingly, frauds, according to an analysis by the Federal Trade Commission.

Victims lost a staggering $770 million in social media scams -- that’s 18 times what was lost in 2017.

Reports of losing money to scammers exploded last year, twice as many as the year before. One-quarter of all fraud victims said the contact with the fraudster was initiated on social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram, the FTC found.

“I think there’s a lot for scammers to like about social media,” said Emma Fletcher, program analyst at the FTC. “It’s a low-cost way to reach millions of people. They can easily manufacture a completely fake persona or hack into an existing profile.”

The greatest number of scams dealt with online shopping -- people ordering advertised goods that never arrived.

But the biggest surge and most lucrative tricks were bogus investment scams, typically involving cryptocurrency. Romance scams continued to make millions for cons, and sometimes the ruse involved both.

The contact would typically start with a direct message, possibly from a friend’s hacked account, Fletcher said. Once a relationship was established, the game would escalate.

“The person will drop hints that they are very good at investing and, ‘wouldn’t you like to try investing in cryptocurrency?’” Fletcher said. “That’s a good way to use a romantic hook or lure people into bogus cryptocurrency investments.”

Who’s getting ripped off? Younger adults were more than twice as likely to report they’d been scammed than people over 40, the FTC said.

To protect yourself, resist oversharing.

“We encourage people to check their privacy settings and limit who can see your posts and information,” Fletcher said.

Also, the FTC recommends opting out of targeted ads if possible and researching companies before buying something through a social media ad.

If a friend requests money over social media, reach out to them by phone or email to verify that it’s really them behind the post.

And beware any payments using wire transfers, gift cards and cryptocurrency.

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About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.