FTC Reports Uptick in Social Media Scams Amidst Pandemic

On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report revealing a surge in social media-based scams, with the losses for 2020 already surpassing those from the whole of 2019. According to the press release, social media users’ complaints about scams spiked this spring, near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The FTC’s recently published Consumer Protection Data Spotlight showed that “in 2019, total reported losses to these frauds reached $134 million. But reported losses reached record highs, climbing to nearly $117 million in just the first six months of 2020.” The FTC reportedly sourced the data from social media users who reported losses.

The scams, which often target people who have lost a job or another source of income typically come in three flavors: “online shopping, romance scams, and supposed economic relief or income opportunities.” According to the FTC’s press release, online shopping was the scam most often complained of. In online shopping scams, consumers alleged that they purchased products, 94% of which were advertised on Facebook or Instagram, but the items they ordered were never delivered.

In addition, so-called romance scams, whereby a person presents themselves to a user as a love interest and then asks for money, have become more common. Roughly half of these schemes reported to the FTC since 2019 involve social media, typically Facebook or Instagram.

As for income opportunities, social media users increasingly reported that they received messages regarding grant money or other giveaways, ostensibly to aid people during the pandemic. These schemes purport to offer money but instead try to obtain the target’s money, information, or both. Sometimes, the FTC explained, such messages can seem to come from a friend who was instructed by a scammer to resend the message, or from a friend or acquaintance’s hacked account.

To stem the rising tide of social media scams, the FTC listed precautions users should take to avoid becoming a victim. The list included conducting a basic background check on a company a user wishes to purchase something from, never sending money to a love interest a user has not met in person, corroborating the veracity of messages from friends requesting financial help, checking out purported opportunities to earn money on the FTC’s mid-level marketing scam webpage, and adjusting privacy settings to prevent scammers from finding or targeting a user easily.