CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Social media scammers are finding creative ways to trick consumers when they least expect it.
Scams that often start with a post, an ad or a direct message on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other social media sites doubled year-over-year in 2021, leading to $770 million in consumer losses, according to The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Calling social media a “gold mine” for scammers, the FTC said these platforms were far more profitable than any other method of reaching consumers for scams. Those who lost money on social media were most prone to fall victim to one of three kinds of scams: investment scams, romance scams or online shopping scams.
The more than 95,000 such consumer complaints made last year were twice the number made in 2020, the FTC says, and the dollars lost last year were an 18% increase from 2017.
Social media sites offer “a low-cost way to reach billions of people from anywhere in the world,” Emma Fletcher of the FTC wrote in an advisory. Scammers can easily manufacture fake personas or hack into an existing person’s profile page to find other victims.
Investment-related scams are the most popular type of social media fraud, accounting for 37% of all such losses. A surge in online investing was particularly lucrative for scammers, accounting for about $285 million in total losses.
Falling in love with a fraudster cost Americans $185 million last year. 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, according to the FTC.
These scams often start with a seemingly innocent friend request from a stranger, followed by sweet talk, and then, inevitably, a request for money, the FTC added.
Meanwhile, what people thought was savvy shopping turned into a payday for scammers; seven out of 10 people said merchandise they ordered online never arrived. In nearly 70% of these reports, people said they placed an order, usually after seeing an ad, but never got the merchandise, according to the FTC.
The FTC recommends limiting who can see your post, opting out of targeted advertising, not sending money via wire transfer or gift card, taking online relationships slowly, and researching companies before purchasing any merchandise online.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of online fraud, you can report it at reportfraud.ftc.gov.