Scams are a growing threat on social media, FTC says

The Federal Trade Commission says the number of people who reported being hit by scams initiated on social sites more than doubled from 2020 to 2021.

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Andrew Blok is a former editor for CNET who covered home energy, with a focus on solar. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
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Online security is increasingly difficult

Online security is increasingly difficult

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The past year was a big one for scammers on social media, the US Federal Trade Commission said Thursday, with 95,000 consumers reporting they'd been defrauded in schemes initiated on social sites -- more than twice the number from 2020. Consumers reported a combined total of $770 million lost to scams, the agency said, about one quarter of all reported fraud losses from 2021.

"The data suggest that social media was far more profitable to scammers in 2021 than any other method of reaching people," the FTC said in a blog post. Scams starting on social media have risen rapidly in the last five years. In 2017, 5,000 people reported $42 million lost to scams originating on social media. In 2021, nearly 18 times the money was lost and nearly 19 times as many people fell victim to such scams, the FTC said.

Watch this: How to avoid QR code scams

Most often, consumers were defrauded when they purchased items advertised on social media and the expected products never arrived. People reporting this type of social media scam to the FTC primarily mentioned Facebook and Instagram. 

"We put significant resources towards tackling this kind of fraud and abuse," a Meta spokesperson told CNET in an emailed statement. "We also go beyond suspending and deleting accounts, Pages and ads. We take legal action against those responsible when we can, and always encourage people to report this behavior when they see it."

Though purchases that never arrived made up the bulk of the scams, the most costly schemes involved bogus investment opportunities or situations where a con artist faked romantic interest before asking for money.

You can take steps to avoid online scams. The FTC suggests limiting who can see your posts and activity, opting out of targeted advertising when possible, researching companies before purchasing from them online, and being cautious about out-of-the-blue online romances.