Social media scams have cost consumers $117M already this year – Here’s what to look out for

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HONOLULU (KHON) – For years scammers targeted your email inbox or telephone number in hopes of duping you out of your money, but increasingly social media is being used as a platform for theft.

In the first six months of 2020, the Federal Trade Commission reports consumers losing a record of nearly $117 million to social media scams.

But on social media, the gimmicks can be much more complex than a fake prince offering to share his riches in return for a loan. Here’s a look at some of the typical scams called out by the FTC.

Fake Online Sales

The Better Business Bureau echoes FTC findings that the largest number of complaints are about fake online sellers.

“We click on that link, we go ahead and order that item and then it doesn’t show up,” said Roseann Freitas, Better Business Bureau Hawaii Marketplace Manager. “That is a big increase. We saw it initially with the PPE gear and we’re now seeing it again with every item.”

The FTC says such complaints have “skyrocketed” since March.

“Nearly one in four reports to the FTC mentioned a social media hook,” FTC officials wrote in a summary of the findings. “These scam ads look real and can be carefully targeted to reach a particular audience. The scammers can delete comments on their ads or posts, so that negative responses don’t show up and alert people to the con.”

Phony Relief

It’s not just online shopping emptying bank accounts. Millions of dollars are going to fraudulent social media ads offering financial relief due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These scams offer so-called relief to people in need of cash, but scammers are really after your money, your information, or both,” the FTC writes. “These messages can even come from friends who may have been hacked, or who don’t know the offer is a scam, since scammers often tell people to send their message on to others.”

Freitas says you should ask before you click.

“If you get those pop-up messages that say, ‘I got this money, click here’ from one of your friends, more than likely they were hacked. So you want to let your friend know. If you suspect maybe it’s real, call your friend. Don’t click on it.”

Looking for Love

Romance scams have been a problem for years, but the FTC says they have actually increased during the pandemic.

“About half of all romance scam reports to the FTC since 2019 involve social media, usually Facebook or Instagram. However, since the pandemic began, more people than ever have reported losing money to romance scams,” the FTC writes.

Ways to Protect Yourself

The FTC offers the following tips to avoid falling victim to scams.

  • 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.”
  • 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 some financial relief, call them. Did they forward it to you? If not, tell them their account may have been hacked. If so, check it out before you act.
  • Before paying into an “opportunity” to earn money, check out ftc.gov/mlm.
  • Don’t make it easy for scammers to target you – 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.   

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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