The introduction of social media has transformed how millions of people communicate with friends, family, strangers, and businesses. Unfortunately, it has also provided an outlet for fraud, scams, and unethical business practices to reach a broad audience. Whether through social media marketplaces, sponsored advertisements, business or friend impersonation, or many other tactics, social media provides a direct-to-consumer contact method that scammers can use to carry out various schemes. While these platforms try to prevent bad actors from using them maliciously, there are countless challenges to identifying and restricting access. The best defense against falling victim to fraud and scams originating from social media interactions is to understand how bad actors use the most popular platforms.
As a social media network designed for business networking, fraud on this platform typically leverages professional messaging, employment opportunities, influencer marketing, and impersonation. Scammers know that having a LinkedIn profile enhances their credibility and will often create an account to match their claims of industry expertise. They often include false job histories with well-known companies, fake degrees or credentials, and other details designed to make them appear like experts in their field. This tactic is frequently used with cryptocurrency and investment scams to help the scammer seem like a legitimate, successful trader. A major goal for these scammers is to provide a false sense of security, and they will often ask for their targets to trust them, capitalizing on the “no risk, no reward” mentality.
Another popular tactic used on LinkedIn is fraudulent employment postings or positions. These job opportunities often advertise high-paying entry-level positions that require little to no experience, are 100% remote, and provide flexible working hours. Users should also be aware of fraudulent professional development courses, resume writing services, unrecognized industry certificates or credentials, and ineffective recruitment agencies.
As one of the most widely used social media platforms, scammers turn to Facebook to carry out a range of schemes. While some focus primarily on fraudulent purchases using Facebook Marketplace or community buy-and-sell groups, other scams rely on using compromised accounts to reach out to a network of friends and family. When an account is compromised, a scammer may use it to ask Facebook friends for money due to a fabricated emergency, provide a fake investment opportunity, or have them follow a link that will compromise their own accounts. Other schemes repurpose stolen pictures of disasters or are taken out of context, asking for donations by relying on the goodness of strangers and their emotional reactions to a fabricated situation.
Facebook users are also encouraged to be mindful of the information they provide while answering popular social media quizzes, as well as consider what the company creating the quiz does with the information that is provided. Take a moment to review what permissions and information you are granting a website to get from your account if you are asked to link your account when sharing results from a quiz.
With a focus on visually engaging content, scammers use Instagram to showcase fabricated projects or results. Often, unethical contractors will steal photos of projects completed by reputable businesses and pass them off as their own. This tactic is also used by fraudulent or impersonated fitness and health influencers who provide before and after pictures of people who supposedly used a promoted product or program. In many cases, health products and programs are advertised as subscription-based services that mislead consumers about the fitness results they can expect, the total cost of the service, or additional fees for canceling the subscription.
Users should also be wary of romance scams originating from an Instagram account, especially if the romantic interest directs the user to an investment or cryptocurrency opportunity. A romance scammer may often spend weeks or months talking with a potential target to build trust before enacting their scheme. Often, this takes the form of a request for money to help with travel costs to visit or due to a made-up emergency, like a hospital bill or mortgage payment.
Extremely popular among younger audiences, scammers use TikTok to position themselves as experts in emerging markets, enticing young adults. This platform is also commonly used in online purchase scams to show consumers the benefits and uses of a product that, when purchased, is never received. With an emphasis on short-form video content, scammers create engaging and visually appealing promotional material to direct users to an online marketplace that is unsecured or designed to retain banking information, compromising victims’ accounts.
Additionally, TikTok scammers often attempt to distinguish themselves as online influencers by posting updates showing bundles of cash they claim to have made by following their system – particularly regarding investments and cryptocurrencies. Other issues include health and fitness programs that ‘guarantee’ results, including fake before and after photos of people who followed the system, and the use of deep-fake technology to manufacture endorsements.
Impersonation is one of the most common tactics used on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), with a greater emphasis on approaches that seem custom-made for the victim than on other platforms. Scammers take notice of the types of conversations a target has on the platform and use that information by providing various opportunities or products that appeal to that person.
Often, people turn to X when they want their voice to be heard, and scammers use this desire to direct victims to a website that appears to be a survey. In reality, the website and survey are parts of a sophisticated phishing scam, and the personal information provided can give the answers to an account’s security questions or place the user at an increased risk of experiencing identity theft. Alternatively, people who share personal details about themselves on an open account may accidentally provide the information needed to answer a security question.
How to avoid scams on social media
Be wary of impersonation and compromised accounts. Any account can become compromised and used to disguise a scammer, including businesses. If receiving a private message from a social media friend that includes a link, take a moment to think before immediately clicking on it. How well do you know this person, and does the message seem out of character? If they offer a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity, why would they come to you with this chance, and are they usually active in this scene? What policies does this business have regarding the type of personal information they will ask for through email or a survey? Trust in your intuition, and if something doesn’t seem right, verify directly with that person or business through another contact method.
Shop safely online. Online purchase scams are the riskiest scam encountered by North American consumers, and social media is a prime location for scammers to reach the public. Be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals, especially for name-brand products, that only accept payment through gift cards, a wire transfer, or an unprotected mobile app transaction. BBB recommends using a credit card for all online purchases since it is often easier to dispute or remove charges for products that are not received than other payment methods. Be careful of inputting bank account information on any website that is not secure.
Set your profile to private. Scammers can use open-source information to narrow down answers to security questions, impersonate family members, and customize outreach efforts to their victim’s interests. Setting your profile to private can prevent this information from being readily available and can protect your identity, and that of your family members, from being compromised.
Be mindful of what you share. Social media is a great way to provide friends and family with life updates, but oversharing information can have negative consequences, especially when provided in public groups. For example, a common security question is ‘What was your first job?’ which you may accidentally answer with a social media post, if a scammer goes back into your posts far enough. Additionally, while you may be excited about the week-long family vacation you are about to go on, posting about it lets everyone know that your house will be empty for a week, and scammers may decide to use your address for various schemes while you are gone.
Visit BBB’s social media scams resource hub for more information about how to identify and avoid these and other scam tactics. For more tips about how to spot and avoid scams, visit BBB.org/SpotAScam.