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FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

Social Media Scams

En español | Older Americans are increasingly active on social media, especially Facebook, which is used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults ages 50 to 64 and half of those age 65 and over, according to 2021 survey data from the Pew Research Center.

But be careful where you click: Fraud is prevalent on popular social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and getting more so.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 95,000 complaints in 2021 about scams that originated with social media ads, posts or messages, a six-fold increase since 2019. Those incidents cost consumers some $770 million, accounting for a quarter of fraud losses reported to the FTC in 2021 and making social media the most profitable way for scammers to reach consumers, the agency said in a January 2022 report.

Many of these cons simply put a social media spin on older online frauds. Romance scams, fake stores and bogus investments (often involving cryptocurrency) are rife on social networks, according to the FTC. Your social feeds might also be full of fake corporate giveaways, nonexistent government grants, supposed sweepstakes winnings and ads for questionable health aids, intended to get you to send money or click on malware-loaded links.

Have you seen this scam?

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Crooks are also customizing social media cons for the coronavirus pandemic. They post bogus ads for COVID-19 testing or treatment, or hack Facebook accounts and, disguised as your actual friends or relatives, send out private messages with purported links to urgent health information or pandemic "relief grants."  

Other scams are tailored to exploit how we use social media. For example:

Fake celebrities. We’ve become so used to seeing what our favorite stars are up to on social media that it might seem natural for them to get in touch to solicit charitable donations, offer backstage passes or profess their gratitude personally. It’s not. Social networks swarm with impersonator accounts set up to hoax or steal from fans.

• Facebook quizzes. They may seem like harmless fun, but the Better Business Bureau and digital-security companies warn that swindlers sometimes use quizzes to pry loose personal data. Launching a quiz app may give its creators permission to pull information from your profile, offering hackers an opening to steal your online identity.

And look out for innocent-sounding queries about your high school mascot or first car. Con artists know these are common security questions that banks and financial firms use to protect accounts.

• “Is that you in this photo/video?” If you get a message like this with a link to purported online evidence of embarrassing behavior, repress your curiosity and hit “delete.” Clicking the link takes you to a site that mimics one of the popular social networks and prompts you to log in, a ploy for hackers to get your credentials and access your account.

• Missing persons. The FBI has issued alerts about a particularly vicious social media scam: Criminals contact people who post information about missing family members and pose as kidnappers, claiming to have abducted the loved one and demanding ransom payments.

As you connect digitally with friends and family, take these steps to help protect your online identity.

Warning Signs

  • Posts and ads that offer super low prices on popular name-brand goods or free trials of miraculous health and beauty aids. If a discount or product claim seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • A post that directs you to another website to claim a prize, win a gift card, take a quiz, fill out a survey or see a scandalous video.
  • Posts and direct messages that ask for money, especially in the form of gift cards, cryptocurrency or a wire transfer. Those are the chief ways scammers seek to get paid.

Do's

  • Do check and regularly update the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Use options to let only people you know see your posts, opt out of targeted advertising and prevent apps from accessing your profile information.
  • Do use different passwords for different accounts, and set up two-factor authentication, which ensures that only you can access an account even if someone else gets your password.
  • Do be wary of strangers who attempt to forge close bonds or romantic relationships on social media. Cut off contact if they start asking for money.
  • Do contact a friend, offline, if you get what appears to be a social media message from them about an investment opportunity or urgent need for money. Their account may have been hacked or duplicated. 
  • Do think carefully about what you post about yourself and your whereabouts. Hackers can use personal information for identity theft, and a seemingly innocuous vacation photo can signal to criminals that your home is empty.

Don'ts

  • Don’t share personal information such as your home address or phone number in social media posts or include it in your public profile.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
  • Don’t download apps via links on social media unless you need them and can confirm they come from a trusted source.
  • Don’t take social media quizzes or surveys that ask personal questions, even ones that sound innocuous.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links, even in posts from people you know. Website safety checkers such as Google Safe Browsing or VirusTotal can tell you if a link carries a phishing or malware risk.
  • Don’t log in to Facebook or other social media sites while using a public Wi-Fi network. Many are poorly secured, leaving openings for scammers to intercept personal data associated with your accounts.

More Resources

Updated February 1, 2022

About the Fraud Watch Network

Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.

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