What are Social Media Scams and How Not Be a Victim

Brandon King
Editor
November 21, 2023
New social media platform and other social media Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest

Photo by Adem AY

After her husband of 20 years and her mother died within six years, Amy was desperate for companionship. 

She turned to the online dating platform, Match.com and matched with dashing 61-year-old, Dwayne. He claimed he was a construction worker from Virginia, but that he was currently working in Malaysia.

He had a way with words – and before long, he had her heart, too. 

Strangely, Dwayne’s account on Match.com was taken down. Sometimes, he would disappear for a long time. Other times, he would send her a flurry of messages.

In some cases, he’d forget what he had already told her. He also never showed her his face except for pictures and an ID card.

She overlooked these red flags and instead continued exchanging emails. 

Dwayne promised to return to Virginia when his work trip to Malaysia ended, and as his return date drew nearer, he told her that he had money problems, but that he would receive $2.5 million on completion of the project and retire immediately. 

Of course, Amy would be the partner to enjoy that with him.

At first, he needed to pay customs fees. Then his friend’s fiancée was cash-strapped. Did he mention that he also needed to bribe immigration officials because of his expired visa? All this while promising he would return to Virginia within a few weeks.

Amy was smitten. She was happy to help

She didn’t tell her friends or family about the money she was sending. 

“They wouldn’t understand,” she thought.

By the time Amy did some digging on the pictures he sent her, not only did she discover Dwayne wasn’t real, but she had also sent him more than $300,000.

The damage was done. Her retirement savings were gone. 

And Amy is not alone. In 2022, victims of social media scams reported losing 1.2 billion dollars. Social media has become a goldmine for fraudsters, with 92 percent of fraud loss reports in 2021 indicating social media as the contact method.

But you don’t have to be a victim. By understanding how scammers operate and the common tactics they use, you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Social media may be a popular platform for catching up with family and friends, but it’s also a breeding ground for con artists.

So stay vigilant, and don’t fall for their lies. With a little education and awareness, you can avoid irreparable financial damage and keep your hard-earned savings where they belong – in your own pocket.

What are Social Media Scams?

Social media scams are fraudulent activities committed on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or X, Telegram, YouTube, Signal, and, more recently, TikTok.

These scams can take different forms, and the threat actor’s aim is always to trick legitimate users into revealing personal or financial information, send money, or lure them into downloading malware into their devices.

Fraudsters typically create a realistic-looking profile with a bio and photos, then they befriend unsuspecting users. Later, they may engage in sending them spam messages or links to malicious websites. 

Other creative ways social media scammers operate include:

  • Organizing fake giveaways that look like they come from legitimate celebrities or companies to deceive innocent users into providing sensitive information or clicking phishing links.
  • Impersonating celebrities, companies, or people you may know to trick you into giving them money.
  • Using social media surveys and quizzes to gather personally identifiable information that can be used to steal your identity.

Since most social media platforms don’t require an official ID, these con artists can create numerous profiles with different scams.

Plus, there’s a slew of sophisticated software and tools at their disposal to make the scams look real. They have access to sophisticated software and tools that make their scams look real, and they are always coming up with new tactics to deceive you.

In the next section, we’ll discuss the latest social media scams that you need to be on the lookout for.

✎ Related: Common Types of Reddit Scams ➔

social media apps

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc

Common Types of Social Media Scams

  1. Phishing URLs
  2. Phony Giveaways, Contests, Scholarships, Lottery, Sweepstakes
  3. Romance Scams (Catfishing)
  4. Investment and Cryptocurrency Scams
  5. Phony Job Scams
  6. Authentication Code Scams
  7. Social Media Shopping Scams
  8. Faux Non-Profit or Charity Scams
  9. Talent Scouting Scams
  10. Fake Customer Support and Other Impersonator Accounts

1. Phishing URLs

Much like emails and text messages, social networks can also be used for phishing scams.

In fact, social media accounts for about 12 percent of cases where a victim clicks phishing links.

This can take many forms, but it typically involves the scammer sending a malicious link and encouraging the victim to click on it.

It’s not always “Hey, click on this link” – that would be too glaring. Scammers have become creative, so you might not realize you’ve fallen into their trap until it’s too late.

A friend might send a random DM saying, “Is this you in the video?” next to a link. Out of curiosity, you might be tempted to click the link.

A savvy scammer might make it even more interesting: “I saw a video of you doing this,” next to the malicious link.

DON’T CLICK IT!

Clicking the link might install malicious code into your device or prompt you to log in to a website.

Here’s how to avoid being a victim:

Don’t click links sent to you by strangers or people you may know.

If a friend sends you the link, use a different platform or mode of communication to see if it’s legitimate. You can use apps such as Windows Sandbox to investigate where these links may lead or what they do.

2. Phony Giveaways, Contests, Scholarships, Lottery, Sweepstakes

Everyone loves free stuff, and that’s why scammers prey on people’s desire to win giveaways, contests, scholarships, lotteries, or sweepstakes.

Fraudsters will create fake social media profiles that look like legitimate celebrities or companies. 

They’ll offer giveaways or contests but ask them to provide personal information or click on links.

These scams are usually quite convincing and often promise huge rewards for a small effort.

For a chance to win the latest iPhone or $5,000, all you need to do is “fill out a form.”

Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?

Giving out your name, date of birth, and email address and answering security questions like your pet’s name or the street you grew up on seems like nothing compared to what you might win.

However, by filling out that “short survey” you just gave a scammer your Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

A scammer can then use that information to build a profile and pretend to be you. Or, they could sell your information for pennies on the dark web.

In 2019, scammers created a Facebook account impersonating Costco’s official account. They offered a fake $75 coupon to users who completed a survey. 

As a result, people gave out their personal information to these scammers. Learn from this!

3. Romance Scams (Catfishing)

According to the FTC, romance scams are the second most profitable scams on social media, and they proliferate on dating sites as well. 

Romance scammers create fake social media profiles with genuine-looking photos to gain a victim’s affection and trust. 

One clear warning sign of romance scams is how quickly these scammers move. They’re usually quite forward, and before long, they’ll profess their love. 

This is known as “love bombing.”

They might also offer to meet up, like in Amy’s case, but they never do. The offer to meet physically is merely a ploy to make you think they have no problems revealing their face. If you take them up on the offer, they’ll come up with excuses.

Of course, the scammer soon mentions that they have encountered money troubles and they need your help. You do love them, right?

Other warning signs of a romance scam include:

  • They ask for personal information, like your full name, location, pet’s name, etc.
  • The person asks for money or gift cards.
  • They’re eager to move from social media/dating sites to texting or WhatsApp.
  • They ask for financial information or inappropriate photos. This could be a selfie of you holding your driver’s license or other government-issued ID.

Here’s how to avoid a romance scam:

  • Don’t send money to strangers or people you haven’t met in person.
  • Regulate your social media posts. Scammers can gather intelligence through your social media posts, your “Likes,” where you frequently visit, and your favorite shows, food, and clothes. They will use this information when they connect with you, making you feel that they’re your dream partner.
  • If you must meet, choose a public place you’re familiar with. I recommend taking a family member or friend along.

Romance scammers try so hard to be the perfect partner. So, if someone you met online feels too good to be true, see it as a red flag.

4. Investment and Cryptocurrency Scams

More than half of investment scam reports in 2021 started on social media. 

And, the top platforms, according to this report, were Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

People have tried “get-rich-quick syndrome” for centuries, and the flavor du jour is an investment and cryptocurrency scam.

Scammers use social media to show off wealth: new cars, houses, vacations, and expensive designer clothing.

Strangely, they are also willing to teach you how YOU TOO can live their aspirational lifestyles. You just need to follow their bogus investment strategies or buy the cryptocurrency that they are promoting.

These investment scams promise big payouts, guaranteed returns, or quick money. 

All red flags. All scams.

Scammers may also contact you via DM, trying to build a relationship. Then they share a “once in a lifetime investment opportunity” and apply pressure tactics to get you to invest.

If you do, know that you’ll only be sending money or cryptocurrency directly to the scammer and will never see a dime back. That’s an expensive lesson.

Here’s how to spot social media investment scams:

  • High return on investment with little or no risk. Scammers may assure you the return on investment will be paid soon.
  • A “guaranteed” rate of return.
  • The scammer tries to teach you cryptocurrency trading, even claiming to help you through the first few trades.
  • They may have realistic-looking websites or crypto exchanges but with little to no information about the company or who runs it.

Here’s how to avoid crypto/investment scams:

  • Be wary of people trying to guilt trip you into investing. They may say you’re “not serious with your future,” and they’re trying to help you “escape the matrix.”
  • Don’t send money to anyone claiming to teach crypto trading or who has an investment opportunity.
  • Avoid “pump and dump” schemes. Fraudsters might hype a cryptocurrency through social media. Once they succeed in inflating the price, the scammers sell their holdings, causing a crash. 
  • Beware of DMs with a link, username, and password asking you to “manage” a crypto account with a huge sum in it.
  • Don’t fall for fake celebrity endorsements. No, Dr. Phil probably didn’t just launch a cryptocurrency.
  • Don’t share personal or financial information until you’ve researched and confirmed the company’s legitimacy.
  • Contact your state’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) to verify the person’s authenticity as an investment banker.

5. Phony Job Scams

Job scams are common on job boards, but scammers now leverage social media.

A scammer might post a fake job opportunity with incredible benefits, an attractive salary, and remote work.

They typically create a fake social media account pretending to be a reputable company or executive.

Another variation of this is the bank scam. This happens when the scammer sends a check for a large amount, asking you to deposit it but send some money back to the “employer.”

Don’t do it.

Here are some other warning signs of social media job scams:

  • The “hiring manager” promises you the job, but only if you pay for “equipment” or “training.” Legitimate companies provide the tools you need to succeed. 
  • They send you a link to the job application asking for private information like your home address and Social Security number.
  • The job pays well, but the work seems too easy.

You can avoid job scams by:

  • Doing due diligence on the hiring company. Check if it’s a legitimate company on platforms like Glassdoor or Better Business Bureau (BBB). Confirm the names of company executives on LinkedIn and ensure they’re active.
  • Don’t pay to get a job, whether it’s for training, equipment, gear, or supplies.
  • Verify the legitimacy of a company before clicking links to the job application or providing sensitive information.

6. Authentication Code Scams

Multi-factor authentication, like two-factor authentication (2FA), offers an extra layer of security for your social media accounts.

When you enable 2FA, a code will be sent to you via text, email, or authenticator apps to verify your identity.

This means even if a scammer cracks your password, they still need the code.

However, scammers can pretend to be friends or acquaintances, asking for “help” to recover their accounts.

They will ask that you send a code you received in an email or text message, but they’re actually requesting authentication codes for your account! Once you send the code, they can access your social media account.

They may also claim the code is to confirm if you’re “legitimate.” This is especially common on online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, eBay, Nextdoor, etc.

Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • You received an email or text with an authentication code for your social media or another online account.
  • A friend or stranger texts you requesting the code.

Here’s how to avoid authentication scams on social media:

  • Nobody shares the same phone number with you. Don’t give anyone an authentication code, not even friends. 
  • Ignore unsolicited authentication codes.

Once you receive an authentication code you didn’t request, it could be an indication a scammer has already cracked your password. You typically don’t need to do anything, but I recommend changing your password, especially if you might have reused it on another online account without 2FA.

7. Social Media Shopping Scams

Many people are drawn to the comfort of shopping online and getting the product delivered to them.

Now, imagine shopping on the same social network you spend most of your time on. 

Even more comfort!

Unfortunately, there are many scammers who use this promise of comfort to sell fake or counterfeit products.

Scammers may even go as far as creating social media ads to promote these products.

They lure victims with extremely low prices but don’t intend to fulfill the order.

Some warning signs to look out for are:

  • Spelling or grammatical errors in ads.
  • Low-quality product images or insufficient product images. The ad will usually have just one picture and no close-up or 360 views like you would see on Amazon.
  • The price is unbelievably low (“too good to be true”).
  • The seller has no other online presence besides the social media account. No website, no other social media accounts.

If you are a parent, it’s also essential to protect your children from social media shopping scams. 

That’s because teenagers and adolescents are around 85 percent more likely to fall victim to shopping scams

The best way to protect yourself is not to fall for terrific deals from unknown retail stores – not even for “Black Friday” sales.

You should also run a Google search on the company name, ask friends if they have any experience with the company, and look out for comments under its posts.

Comments might reveal previous scam victims or bot accounts responding to the post.

8. Faux Non-Profit or Charity Scams

Scammers might also create fake non-profit organizations or fundraisers for a cause. 

This usually happens after a natural disaster.

I believe in charitable giving, but after nearly falling victim to a charity scam myself after the California fires of 2022, I only give to an organization after verifying its track record at Charity Navigator.

Here’s how to easily spot and avoid a charity scam on social media:

  • The “organization” pressures you to give to the cause immediately. Don’t give in. Ask them to send materials about their organization, previous projects, and time to do your research.
  • They request payment in cash, cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. Any legitimate charity organization receives money in almost any form.
  • The charity name sounds similar to popular charities.
  • You receive a “Thank You” notification on social media, SMS, or email about a donation you didn’t make. Ignore this. Scammers may be trying to compel you into paying or even clicking a malicious link.
  • The charity has no reasonable online presence, and its website looks suspicious.
  • They tug at your heartstrings, trying to persuade you to give without providing any specifics about how the donation will be used.
  • There’s a prize or sweepstakes winning in exchange for your donation.

These signs generally mean the charity is a scam. 

Make sure you ask the right questions:

  • What is your web address and mailing address?
  • Can the organization confirm if your donation will be tax-deductible and prove its tax-exempt status?
  • What are the organization’s goals, missions, and past programs?
  • What percentage of my donation will be used for its stated purpose?

If they can’t answer your questions or say they need more time to get the answers, it’s likely a scam.

9. Talent Scouting Scams

Talent scouting scams are popular on social media.

This is especially common when you or your child are up-and-coming artists or athletes. 

Scammers might try to exploit your desire to be famous and promise to make you a star. 

They may claim to be a talent agency or scout that will help your career.

Here are ways to spot a talent scam:

  • They ask for money upfront, typically for “administrative,” “registration,” or “consultation” fees. In reality, legitimate talent agents work on a commission and don’t get paid until you get paid.
  • The agency promises you’ll make a lot of money daily as an extra “with no experience needed.”
  • They take your calls after work hours. Most legitimate businesses stick to normal operating hours.
  • They pressure you to sign a contract immediately.
  • They display pictures of famous celebrities to imply that they represent these stars. A quick Google search can confirm or deny this.
  • They use similar names to well-known talent agencies. This is done to give the impression they’re connected to a legitimate agency.

If you encounter such an agency, you can make a complaint to the BBB, your state’s Department of Licensing and Regulation, or the consumer protection agency in the city where the company is located.

10. Fake Customer Support and Other Impersonator Accounts

Scammers can also pose as customer support agents for services you use.

They may DM you saying they can fix any problems you’re having but – of course! – you’ll need to furnish them with personal or login information.

For example, you may have tweeted that you’re facing issues with a particular platform. Or, maybe you left a complaint on a company’s message board.

The scammers will then send you a DM impersonating a customer service agent or a customer who has resolved your very same issue and just wants to “help.”

Don’t give in to these scams and block the account immediately.

Legitimate companies generally have provisions for making complaints on their official websites or social media accounts.

How to Avoid Social Media Scams

Following each safety precaution above will protect you from social media scams.

Here are some best practices to avoid social media scams:

  • Resist the urge to share sensitive information and remove the geotags if you must share photos of where you’ve been. 
  • Do not click on unsolicited links or pop-up messages.
  • Do not send money to people you’ve only met on social media.
  • By adjusting your privacy settings, ensure only your friends and trusted people can see your posts.
  • Have a strong password policy. This means creating passwords with 8-15 characters of letters, numbers, and special symbols. Don’t reuse passwords across your social media accounts; change passwords every three months. Use a password manager like Bitwarden to keep your passwords safe.
  • Activate 2FA for all accounts and use authenticator apps like Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator. This protects you from SIM swap scams.
  • Enable a firewall on your device.
  • Use reliable antivirus software like Bitdefender.
  • Do not respond to strangers messaging you via social media or via text.

Conclusion

Virtually any scam that requires contact with the victim can be committed through social media. 

It’s important to stay vigilant because most social media scams require your action.

Scammers also use social media to gather personal information about a potential target. This includes names, private photos, location, date of birth, and workplace, which can be used to commit identity theft later.

This is called social media scraping.

That’s why it’s important to regulate what you share and with whom you share it. Once you send it out, you no longer have control. 

Stick to strict safety precautions and adopt a “no-trust policy.”

✎ Related: How to Protect Your Social Media Accounts From Being Hacked? ➔