Many of us are spending more time on social media during the pandemic—and scammers are too. They’re hiding out on your favorite platforms, using ads and offers to market their scams, according to people’s reports to the FTC and a new Data Spotlight.
In the first six months of 2020 alone, people reported losing a record high of almost $117 million to scams that started on social media (that’s nearly triple from last year!). People sent money to online sellers that didn’t deliver, to romance scammers, and for phony offers of financial help.
So far this year, 28% of all fraud reports were from online shopping scams. Romance scams accounted for 13%, and not-so-fun fact: about half of all romance scams reported since 2019 started on social media, usually on Facebook or Instagram. People also told the FTC about social media messages that pretended to offer grants and other financial relief because of the pandemic—but were really trying to get money, personal information or both.
How do they do it?
Scammers can hide behind phony profiles on social media (we’ve talked about this before). They can take over an account or join a virtual community you trust to encourage you to trust them.
Scammers also create ads that look real and are carefully targeted to reach exactly the right audience. The FTC data suggest 94% of the time these ads appear on both Facebook and Instagram. Don’t count on the comments to tell you if it’s for real—scammers will delete negative comments so you won’t be alerted to the con.
How to stay safe
You can make it harder for scammers to target you by taking these simple precautions:
- Review your social media privacy settings and limit what you share publicly (we’ve also shared how Facebook “follows you” even when you’re off the platform and how to manage those settings).
- Before you buy based on an ad or post, check out the company. Type its name in a search engine with words like or “scam” or “complaint.”
- If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down. Read about romance scams.
- If you get a message from a friend about a grant or financial relief, call them. Did they really send that message? If not, their account may have been hacked. Check it out before you act.
If you spot a scam, report it to the social media site and the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
By Bridget Small of the FTC with Missy Kellor