Social media (also called social networks) has become an important—or even essential—part of many people’s lives, as they use it to reconnect and maintain contact with friends, explore relationships, learn for fun or professional development, offer opinions, display skills and knowledge, manage hobbies, play games, collaborate on projects, buy and sell goods and engage in many other activities offered by these diverse platforms.
Facebook®, Instagram®, Twitter®, LinkedIn®, TikTok®, WhatsApp®, Telegram®, Tumblr®, Roblox®, Discord® (and numerous other forms of social networks) have billions of daily users across the United States and around the world. Wherever there are lots of people, there are individuals and companies trying to make money by selling to them, and, sometimes, by stealing from them. Social networks provide a convenient, easily accessible and large group of targets for scammers.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is one of the leading government agencies responsible for protecting American consumers from an increasingly long list of illegal activities, including regular spam, dangerous phishing emails and bogus phone calls from fraudsters trying to scam money and access the accounts of unwitting victims. Every year, the FTC maintains its Consumer Sentinel Network that accumulates millions of reports from consumers about fraud they encounter, including coronavirus scams, identity theft and criminal behavior involving computers and the internet. Annually, the FTC compiles the reports into Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, which has an analysis and summary of the previous year’s data.
According to the FTC’s recent data, more 25 percent of people who reported losing money to fraud in 2021 said the scam originated on social media with an advertisement, a post or a personal message. The data also includes the finding that “more than 95,000 people reported about $770 million in losses to fraud initiated on social media platforms in 2021.” Those are only the reported financial losses, and that amount is approximately equal to taking the 2017 reported losses and multiplying them by 18.
Remember—if you think your Delta Community accounts have been compromised, contact our Member Care Center via our toll-free number at 800-544-3328.
What are some of the common types of social network scams to be wary of?
- Over the past two years, during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, social media has experienced a lot of fake ads promising virus testing or a special-secret-new-miracle treatment to cure or prevent coronavirus infections. Don’t fall for COVID-19 scams.
- Beware of cryptocurrency investment schemes. According to the FTC, “Reports make clear that social media is a tool for scammers in investment scams, particularly those involving bogus cryptocurrency investments—an area that has seen a massive surge in reports. More than half of people who reported losses to investment scams in 2021 said the scam started on social media…People send money, often cryptocurrency, on promises of huge returns, but end up empty handed.” Remember, authentic companies do not insist on cryptocurrency as a payment method.
- Be careful about fake celebrity accounts. It can be hard to prove that someone is who they say they are on social media—the actual account holder may be very different from who is portrayed on the social media page. Social networks can have accounts from celebrity impersonators that are set up to steal money or account information from fans. Fans who connect to the fake account may be suddenly surprised by an unexpected personal contact from the celebrity (or their “representative”), with an offer of free tickets or merchandise—but only in exchange for account or financial account details to cover a fake cost, such as shipping fees or taxes.
- Look out for fake online quizzes designed to steal sensitive information. Online crooks may use what seem to be innocent quizzes to uncover sensitive personal information that may compromise your accounts. Don’t let a quiz app use information from your account profile, and beware of quiz questions that go after the type of details used in account security questions, such as your mother’s name, where you were born, the name of your high school mascot, the first music concert you attended (or favorite musical artist), favorite city, or model of the first car you drove.
- If a total stranger shows up on your social media account wanting to connect with you and then attempts to develop a friendship (or a more than casual relationship with you), don’t rush into anything. Romance scams are very real and can wipe out a victim’s life savings as they try to help someone who claims to love them but only wants their money. Be extremely cautious if the online conversations begin to involve stories of hardship and requests for financial support for debts or travel assistance. Try to verify who people are, and don’t take any actions—such as sending money to anyone that you do not know well—without talking about the situation in detail with friends and family.
- Be cautious of bogus stores, which may offer rare items or too-good-to-be-true prices. Many merchants have set up retail operations on social networks because of the huge audience that’s readily available. But not all merchants are real or honest. Rare merchandise may be fake, and sometimes anything that’s ordered could get “lost in shipping.” Beware of buying on social media; the FTC notes that “45% of reports of money lost to social media scams in 2021 were about online shopping.”
How to be safer when participating in social media
There are some other relatively simple actions that can be taken to help improve both account and financial security when using social media, including:
- Control how many people can see your posts and personal information (email address, phone number, home address and other details) on all the social media platforms you use. Whatever social media you’re using, go into their privacy settings and change them to be more restrictive—limit the sharing of your information.
- Also check the app or website’s privacy settings to find out if you can choose not to be included in targeted advertising, which can use browser cookies (short pieces of software deposited into your browser) and other technology to track your online activities.
- If you get a message using a friend’s name that is trying to sell you on a business opportunity or they say that they have an emergency that requires an urgent need for money from you, call the friend to learn more about the situation. The friend’s social media or email account may have been hacked without their knowledge, and your false “friend” is a crook trying to steal from you. Do not give money to anyone you do not know well and trust, and specifically do not go along with any requests to pay with cryptocurrency, gift cards, wire transfers, or through a direct payment app, as those are the favored payment methods of scammers.
- Avoid providing credit card or other financial account information to social media apps and sites, especially if you can use other methods online for making purchases instead of via social media. Check to see if a retailer has an online store website not based inside social media.
- Always try to research any company on social media selling goods and services. In general, always try to deal with well known, reputable online retailers, and always be cautious when buying both at physical and online stores.
- Be careful about engaging with strangers. It is always good advice to be cautious about responding to people that you do not know contacting you on social networks. While a stranger may have a legitimate reason for reaching out to you, having a healthy skepticism about their motives for initiating the connection is a prudent attitude.
If you think you’ve been defrauded on social media there are some actions you can pursue
- If you have already lost money to a scammer, the FTC has a series of quick steps to take so you can try and recover your funds.
- If you think someone is trying to defraud you, collect and report the details to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Another option for anyone who’s been a victim of an internet crime is to report it to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s (F.B.I.) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- If you suspect that someone may have stolen your identity and is passing themselves off as you, then visit IdentityTheft.gov. That website is the U.S. government’s one-stop resource for assisting identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you step by step through the identity recovery process.
- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has other useful suggestions on how to keep your personal information secure.
- If you think your Delta Community accounts have been compromised, contact our Member Care Center via our toll-free number at 800-544-3328.
If you are looking for more tips on personal information security and online safety…
We have a number of blog and security posts on managing online personal security:
If you'd like to get ongoing information that could help you manage your finances, then look into Delta Community’s free Financial Education Center live and recorded webinars on a wide range of financial topics. Please visit our Events & Seminars page to register for our on-demand webinars.