Social media scammers have stolen at least $650 million from victims this year

In brief: Now that the web as we know it has been around for decades and more users are tech savvy, one might imagine that scammers have a harder time tricking people into handing over money on social media platforms. But the FTC warns that’s not the case: this year alone, users have lost more than $658 million via these networks, and the precise figure is likely to be even higher.

The FTC’s Data Spotlight report reveals that social media is the most popular method among scammers to steal people’s money.

Online shopping scams were the most frequently reported form of online robbery carried out on social networks in the first half of 2023. There were 24,650 reported incidents, or 44% of the total, most of which involved people buying clothing or electronics that don’t show up. Offering graphics cards on Facebook marketplace that never arrive seems quite common these days.

Although investment-related frauds weren’t as common as shopping scams, most of the stolen money (53%) came from this category. Median individual losses were $3,000, a lot more than romance scams ($1,716) and online shopping ($100).

Unsurprisingly, the lure of making a lot of money from cryptocurrency is the most common method of tricking people into “investing” their cash, often by using fabricated success stories.

The ever-popular romance scams constituted just 6% of all reported incidents but accounted for 14% of the $658 million total amount lost during the first half of the year. Of all the various types of scams, the embarrassment factor associated with this type makes it the one people are least likely to report. The FTC previously said romance scams cost victims at least $1.3 billion over the last five years.

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The FTC has offered some advice for avoiding being scammed on social media. The first suggestion is to limit who can see your posts and information on social media to friends and family. i.e., set profiles to private.

The agency also reminds people that if someone they know unexpectedly messages asking for money or promoting a can’t-lose investment opportunity, their account has likely been hacked. Romance scams, meanwhile, usually involve the other person refusing to meet in person and asking the target for money at some point.

These might seem like obvious warnings that only older generations would be unaware of, but a survey last month found that Generation Z – those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s – are scammed a lot more than their boomer grandparents. According to Deloitte, while 5% of boomers reported being scammed online, 16% of Gen Z users, more than three times that of the older generation, had fallen victim to the same crimes.