Romance scams are on the rise. Here’s how to avoid them – Forbes Advisor
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You might think you’re pretty savvy online. But every time you open a social media app, you risk getting scammed.
A January report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that about a quarter of fraud cases where consumers’ money was lost last year were initiated on social media. That’s $770 million lost to social media fraud in a single year.
The FTC went so far as to state in its report that social media was more profitable for scammers last year than any other method used to deceive people. And it’s a trend that’s growing at an alarming rate: in 2017, consumers filed only about 5,000 reports of social media fraud. In 2021, they filed 95,000.
Instagram and Facebook were the most frequently reported platforms where contact with a scammer began, with WhatsApp and Telegram users also seeing a fair share of scammers.
And scam victims may not be the demographic you expect. The FTC reported that social media-initiated fraud increased for all age groups, but people aged 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely as older adults to report losing money. money because of such a scam.
You might expect older people to be more susceptible to scams. But many young people are more comfortable sharing details about themselves online, such as their location, occupation, interests and hobbies, which can leave them vulnerable to scammers.
“We must be wary of portraying certain groups as the ‘natural’ victims of scams,” says Rutherford. “The idea of the lonely old woman struggling to use a computer to connect to the world can make others feel like it would never happen to them and lower their defenses.”
Being wary of scams doesn’t mean you have to adopt a bulletproof “no new friends” policy online or quit social media altogether.
Instead, learning to spot scammers’ tactics can go a long way toward avoiding getting scammed on social media. We looked at two increasingly popular types of scams – romance scams and investment scams – which have proven to be big money-makers for scammers.
What you need to know about romance scams
More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 said it started on Facebook or Instagram.
The median amount these victims lost to the scammers? A whopping $2,000. And these are only frauds that have been reported – the vast majority of scams go unreported at all.
Anyone can fall victim to romance scams, but if you’re single and have felt disconnected during the pandemic, you might be more vulnerable. These scams usually start with a friend request from an attractive stranger. The scammer strikes up a conversation with you, showers you with flattery, and ends up asking you for money.
The FTC notes that perpetrators often say they are outside the United States because they are in the military, work on an oil rig, or are medical professionals. They’ll ask you for money for a plane ticket, medical care or travel documents, but – and here’s a major red flag – will ask you to buy gift cards or wire money to them.
Some of these scammers come back again and again asking for more money. Others take your gift card number or bank transfer and disappear, knowing that these payment methods are difficult to trace.
How to Avoid a Social Media Romance Scam
Beware of new contacts or friend requests
Review new contacts before accepting a friend request or replying to a message. Does this person have a fairly established profile, with personal details and information that you can verify through other methods?
Keep in mind that scammers can easily impersonate anyone. Sarah Rutherford, senior director of portfolio marketing, global, fraud and compliance at FICO, recommends doing an image search on your new contact’s profile picture to see if it’s being used elsewhere. If you see the same photo attached to multiple different names, you’re probably messaging a scammer.
Do not share financial details
The FTC says to stop all contact immediately if someone you haven’t met asks you for money or gifts.
And while you probably know not to give out your credit card or social security number, remember that scammers can get lots of other information to help them scam you. Financial information, warns Rutherford, can include whether you rent or own your home, how much money you have in savings, or whether you participate in expensive activities.
Beware of excessive compliments
Be wary of anyone who “love bombs” you, meaning they start proclaiming their love for you shortly after you start chatting. Rutherford says it can be hard to resist this kind of attention, but you should take a step back to determine if your online friend’s feelings are legitimate.
Video: Federal Trade Commission
Investment Scams Target Crypto Curiosities
Investment fraud was even more profitable than romance scams for social media scammers last year, the FTC reported.
More than half of reports that someone lost money to an investment scam last year said the scam started on social media, according to FTC report . The median amount of money lost to a social media investment scam last year was $1,800.
Cryptocurrency was the most popular way for scammers to get victims to part with their money, with payment apps ranking far behind.
Ari Lightman, a professor of digital media and marketing at Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, says scammers prey on your fear of missing out when it comes to crypto investing and NFTs. These are relatively new types of investments, and there’s a lot of demand, a lot of dramatic swings to keep your attention, and (especially in the case of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs) not much regulation.
Read more: What is an NFT? How do NFTs work?
Lots of people want to get involved, and when they feel like they’re missing out on something exciting (like when they miss an NFT release), malicious users swoop in. says Lightman.
Some crypto scams use social media posts that appear to be from a legitimate company. Crypto platform Coinbase shares an example on its website: a screenshot of a Twitter post announcing a bitcoin giveaway allegedly from Coinbase’s account. Coinbase points out that the post is a scam that tricks people into submitting their own cryptocurrency to “verify” their identity in order to claim a prize.
Lightman has also experienced crypto scams on Discord servers, where he tracks NFT projects. Scammers send direct messages to users offering them NFTs at a much lower price than what they are selling for.
While legitimate NFT sellers warn users never to click on unsolicited direct messages, Lightman says scammers often strike when a frustrated potential investor fears they’ve missed a major return opportunity. As soon as he connects his crypto wallet, the scammer steals his currency.
How to avoid an investment scammer
Use common sense
Common sense is your best defense against investment scammers looking for prey on social media. Anyone with a great investment opportunity to share is unlikely to message strangers, and NFT creators usually don’t overlook their limited-edition creations.
Any investment always involves risk, and the chances of immediately making money on your investment are usually quite slim. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably a bad actor. “Promises of guaranteed huge returns or claims that your cryptocurrency will be multiplied are always scams,” an FTC blog post warned.
Don’t fall for flattery
A scammer “may use flattery, ask you for help, or create a sense of urgency to initiate a financial transaction,” warns Rebecca Taylor, incident command knowledge manager at cybersecurity firm Secureworks. If something seems “off” about a potential transaction, she advises taking the time to reassess the situation before committing to sending anyone money.
“If you’re not sure someone is legitimate, find another way to reach them to confirm,” says Lewis Huynh, chief security officer at information technology management vendor NinjaOne. If you get a message from a friend asking for money out of the blue, call them directly or text them using another app to confirm it’s them .
The same goes for any company that says you’ve won a prize or giveaway, Huynh says. Search online for a phone number to call that business or retailer directly. If you actually won a prize, they can confirm the details with you; if it is a scam, you will have saved valuable time and money.
A reputable cryptocurrency platform will likely offer ways to confirm its legitimacy. Coinbase, for example, specifies on its help page where and how it offers freebies.
What to do if you spot a scam
If you suspect the new person sneaking into your DMs is a scammer, file a report with the FTC. Information about the scammer and his techniques can help the agency investigate fraud methods and disseminate information about new varieties of scams.
If you’ve sent money to someone who turns out to be a scammer, file a report with the FTC, but keep in mind that the agency doesn’t investigate individual cases. Although you don’t have a very good chance of getting your money back, you should file a police report and contact the bank, credit card company, or gift card provider you used to send money. silver.
Most social media platforms have options for reporting suspected fraudsters. They may also offer tips to protect your account. For example, Instagram lets you see official emails from the platform for the past two weeks so you can verify a message you received that claimed to be from Instagram.
Not everyone is a scammer, but remember that bad actors are clever and any social media user can be fooled. When in doubt, ask someone you trust for a second opinion on suspicious incoming messages. They can help you spot red flags that are easy to miss in the moment.