The Group Worst Hit by Social Media Scams Isn’t Who You Think

Social media scams are costing Americans billions, according to a new FTC report — and it's not just the fault of boomers.

Cyber criminals operating on social media is nothing new, with even LinkedIn scams now alarmingly common. What does seem to be changing is the cost of social media scams to victims — and the trend isn’t heading in the right direction.

According to new data released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), social media scammers have netted more than $2.7 billion since 2021. Worse still, that’s only the amount of fraud that has been reported to the agency, the fear is that the actual figure is much higher.

In fact, the FTC’s findings show that one in four instances of online fraud occurs via social media, revealing that social media scamming is far more rife than traditional methods such as email phishing scams, which has a value of under $1 billion in the same timeframe.

What Does Social Media Scamming Look Like?

The FTC’s new report not only points to the eye-watering cost of social media scams, it also usefully highlights some of the most common types of fraud taking place on popular networks.

The single biggest type of social media scamming out there right now is undelivered goods based on fraudulent advertising, which accounts for 44% of what’s reported to the FTC. Instagram and Facebook are apparently where this typically takes place, which makes sense given the number of Facebook Marketplace scams we’ve pointed out in the past.

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Electronics and clothing are the most common items involved, which again adds up as they’re also among the most coveted on legit sites like Temu. After that, investment related scams are the next largest category with a 20% “market share” of the social media fraud landscape. These are also the most costly in terms of the average dollar loss involved.

Romance Isn’t Dead — To Cyber Criminals

A final category of note when it comes to social media scams is romance related fraud. This is only the third most prevalent specific type of scam on social, amounting to just 6% of instances reported to the FTC, but the second most expensive for victims after investment scams.

Romance scams typically start with a simple friend request from a stranger, after which the person posing as a potential love interest turns on the charm and – sooner or later – asks for money. It’s a tried and tested method that’s similar to some of the WhatsApp scams operating in 2023.

As well as taking root on Instagram and Facebook, the FTC notes that Snapchat is also a popular social media platform for romance scams. As a general rule of thumb, therefore, it’s advisable to never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.

Who Gets Scammed on Social Media?

Probably the most interesting part of the FTC’s data relates to who is getting scammed on social media these days. According to the agency and echoing another recent report, it’s not just older people who may be less tech savvy, but actually younger generations who are digital natives getting scammed the most.

Looking at the first six months of 2023, social media was the initial contact method in 38% of instances of fraud reported by the people aged 20-20, with the number rising to a whopping 47% for 18 and 19 years old.

In fact, the FTC notes that numbers “decrease with age, consistent with generational differences in social media use.” To stay safe online, there are a number of simple things you can do that stop short of just deleting your Facebook account.

The golden rule? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It applies to all of the worst offenders, from electronics deals and investment opportunities to surprise romantic interests, so if you about your social media usage with that front of mind, you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

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Written by:
James Laird is a technology journalist with 10+ years experience working on some of the world's biggest websites. These include TechRadar, Trusted Reviews, Lifehacker, Gizmodo and The Sun, as well as industry-specific titles such as ITProPortal. His particular areas of interest and expertise are cyber security, VPNs and general hardware.
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